The Space Time Continuum

Progress is a difficult word to get a handle on. What is it exactly? How do we measure it? What timeframes are appropriate for evaluating it? Is it linear? Is it always a positive thing? We’ve obviously made a lot of it in some fields – from mainframes to iPhones in computing, from the Model A to the Prius in automobiles; from segregated schools to the election of an African American President. Sometimes progress astonishes us. In just 53 years the US moved from a society that recognized separate-but-equal as a legal construct to a government led by someone who might have been barred from voting in some jurisdictions at the beginning of the period.

But social or political progress is a seesawing proposition. It is definitely not linear. Science is different. We can see it happen. Its progress is linear but not always positive. The atomic bomb and Agent Orange are products of science but so are the polio vaccine and heart transplants.

Nowhere in my lifetime is progress more personal and tangible than in aviation. The world recognizes the Wright brothers’ flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903 as the first of its kind. It was 120 feet from start to finish at an altitude of 10 feet. I was born exactly thirty-four years after that first flight, the same year that Amelia Earhart missed tiny Howland Island in the South Pacific and was lost at sea on her historic attempt to circumnavigate the globe. 22 years after Earhart disappeared I received a lapel pin from the Chance Vought Company for flying their Marine Corps fighter 1000 miles per hour just off the coast of California. 10 years after that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. From Kitty Hawk to the moon in 66 years.

Last night I saw Amelia, the film biography of Amelia Earhart. She was a celebrity and a pioneer. People were awestruck by the woman and her accomplishments – the first woman to solo the Atlantic, first to fly from Hawaii to the US mainland, and the first to attempt an equatorial circumnavigation of the earth. Those pioneering days seem so distant – but her last flight occurred in my lifetime and now I commute between Seattle and Saigon in less than a day. Even Amelia would be surprised at that kind of progress.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *