Sunday, December 16, 2012

The New Normal is Just the Forgotten Past

Who financed the great aeronautical achievements of America?  Private investors literally provided the fuel for the great speed, altitude and endurance records prior to the Cold War.

Why do you think it was called The Spirit of St. Louis?

The reason some find the Red Bull Stratus work with Felix Baumgartner distasteful is generations grew accustomed to both human flight achievement and the promotion of it linked to the government.  The main reason we have not had a private space industry was the limitations, no, more like outright bans, on non-NASA or DOD space work.

Hardly the case in the 1920s and 1930s as individual daredevils sought funding for their literal flights of fancy from the aviation industry, or those who wanted to advertise with the new entertainment vehicle.  More than a few aircraft sported the old Texaco star -- and many of them live today within the Smithsonian.

Anyone remember the Vin Fiz?  Let's call it the Red Bull of the 1910s.  The first airplane to cross the United States carried the advertising under its wings for a new grape soft drink from meatpacker J. Ogden Armour.  There was a support team following on train tracks, flyers, maps of the achievement.

Where can you find the Vin Fiz today?  That would be in the Pioneers of Flight Gallery in the main atrium of the National Air and Space Museum.  Wait, excuse me, that would be the Baron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery.  Near the Bud Light Spirit of Freedom capsule Steve Fossett soloed around the world.  Just around the corner from that civic-sponsored Ryan monoplane that Charles Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic.

"No bucks, no Buck Rogers," was a perfect throwaway line in The Right Stuff, and exciting America about spending taxpayer dollars on human space flight was vital.  Scaled Composites fought to remain independent of government funded corporate aviation, and today Burt Rutan's unique visions continue to inspire -- the Rutan Voyager and the Virgin Galactic SpaceShipOne (and Two). 

Fair to say that Red Bull will get its chance to stand alongside Vin Fiz in the gallery, almost one century later.

If you want, a very nice piece from On The Media talks about this classic case of presentism -- forgetting our past -- and the shock and "dirty" nature of corporate sponsored science.

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