Thursday, September 06, 2007

Steve Fosset Google Earth, Wired

As the search for missing adventurer Steve Fossett continues in the torturous desert ravines of Nevada, Reuters reports that his friend Richard Branson has contacted Google to see if the latest Google Earth satellite images contain clues to his whereabouts.

I'm embarrassed to admit that, until yesterday, I knew little else about Steve Fossett than his name. But the flood of articles and concern that have accompanied his disappearance testify to his prominence in the American mind -- and looking at his life, it's not hard to see why. Fossett is a manifestation of the American dream: he struck it rich and then used his wealth to support adventures that recall the devil-may-care gallantry of a century ago, when technological advances sent pilots at then-superhuman speeds across oceans and skies and horizons that still seemed vast and mysterious.

When Fossett's plane went down, he was scouting possible sites for the pursuit of a world land-speed record. The locale and the quest recall another mogul-turned-adventurer, Howard Hughes, and the outpouring of support echoes some of the sentiments described in The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe's account of the Mercury astronauts: an ancient, transcendent adulation for the warrior who goes into single combat as a representative of his people, and in the modern age is a daredevil or explorer rather than a fighter.

In a sense it seems strange to emphasize Fosset's plight in a world full of suffering, but in another sense it's a profoundly human impulse, for he's at once a person and a symbol of our eternal quest to push the envelope of speed and time. Good luck, Steve.

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