Why Spaceflight Will Never Be as Safe as Modern Aviation – Facts So Romantic

Charles Lindbergh in 1923, four years before his trans-Atlantic flight.

A light drizzle greeted Charles Lindbergh as he arrived at Roosevelt Field on May 20, 1927, at a little before three in the morning. Weeks of rain had ensured that the runway at the Long Island airport was in poor condition, soft and strewn with puddles. If Lindbergh was nervous about the condition of the field, he provided no outward signs, as his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, was fueled and prepared for takeoff. What Lindbergh was about to attempt had never been done and the odds were decidedly against him. Over the previous nine months, the race to be first to cross the Atlantic had resulted in 11 dead. The public was beginning to wonder whether it was all worth it.

For Lindbergh and the others who took up the challenge, there was no doubt. The rewards for success included not only the achievement of an historic first—we still write and read articles about Lindbergh—but also the prestige of winning the Orteig Prize. The prize, created by New York Hotelier Raymond Orteig in 1919, offered a $25,000 reward, a large sum in those days, for the…
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