[FOUNTAIN]Higher, faster, safer

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[FOUNTAIN]Higher, faster, safer

Mankind since its earliest days has had a love affair with flying, but gravity has always brought us back down to earth, so to speak.

Nevertheless, from ancient times men have had the desire to fly, despite the constraints that nature imposes on them. When humans tried to fulfill their dreams, there was always a price to pay.

In Greek mythology, Icarus tried to escape from prison with wings of feathers and wax, but he grew overconfident, flew near the sun and the wax holding the feathers together melted.

He tumbled out of the sky, the Greeks tell us, into the Mediterranean Sea, and his adventure ended in his death.

Before the Wright brothers made the first motor-driven flight in 1903, Otto Lilienthal experimented successfully with gliders, and was the first human to fly using such a machine. He built a 15-meter-high artificial hill and made over 2,000 flights from it. One day in 1896, a sudden whirlwind picked him up and catapulted him 150 meters into the air.

He crashed and died two days later, making his earlier remark, "Sacrifice must be made," sound eerily prophetic.

Before Lilienthal and his gliders, there were several experimenters with hot-air balloons. In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers rose 25 meters into the sky with a hot-air balloon tethered to the ground. Flying was considered so outlandish and dangerous then that Louis XVI, the king of France, suggested that a condemned prisoner should be the first human passenger.

But a young nobleman, Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier, volunteered. He argued that it was outrageous to give a criminal the first opportunity to conquer the sky. He made several balloon flights, but he too paid with his life. A hydrogen-filled balloon exploded, and Rozier was added to Icarus in the pantheon of aviation dreamers who gave their lives for their dream.

The Wright brothers finally succeeded in flying a true airplane in 1903; their first flight was 36 meters. One hundred years later, air travel is commonplace.

But gravity still has its invisible hold on humanity. The descendants of Icarus use natural law; they have neither conquered nor defeated it. Humanity's dreams now should not be of flying higher and farther, but more safely.

As always, as we offer our prayers for the recent victims, we should draw a lesson from the air crash and put forth our utmost efforts to devise better safety measures so that we can prevent future accidents.

The writer is a deputy culture news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Oh Byung-sang

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