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First Powered, Controlled Flight

"They made the world a forever smaller place."
-- Bill Gates on Wilbur and Orville Wright

The beginning of the Wright Brothers' first flight, on Dec. 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN DANIELS

   Lots of pioneers have risked have their necks over many decades to get 
humans off the Earth, flapping their pseudo-wings, gliding off cliffs, soaring 
across the oceans in marathon sessions, zooming to the Moon. But few are 
remembered so well or mentioned so often as the Wright Brothers, whose 
"Flying Machine" was the first powered airplane to execute controlled 
and sustained flight

   Before we could soar, the Wright Brothers simply had to get us off the ground. 
The invention was a turning point in human history, of course. The stuff of childhood 
dreams became sudden reality. Nowadays, flight is taken for granted. Even spaceflight 
is routine, if risky. For many who ponder the history and future of flight, the trajectory 
is still upward -- leading, ultimately, to the stars. 

Today is Space Day, the 7th annual. Each year involves a different theme. This year, 
in honor of the Wright Brothers first flight nearly a century ago, the theme is
"Celebrating the Future of Flight."

*Correction: This page initially called the 1903 event "the first powered flight." 
Not true, as reader Jürgen Schmidhuber pointed out. Turns out the mistake is common, 
so let's set things straight. The first powered flight was Henri Giffard's steam-powered 
airship (think Goodyear Blimp) in 1852. Clément Ader went half the length of a football 
field in a bat-winged setup that many view as the first manned, powered, heavier-than-air 
flight in 1890. Schmidhuber prefers to call the Wright Brothers achievement the first
 "manned, powered, heavier-than-air and (to some degree) controlled" flight. 

A telegram the brothers sent to their father.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

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