The art of pioneering and exploring is hazardous and exciting; satisfying and frustrating; life enhancing and life taking.
Listening to the coverage on the space shuttle Columbia disaster, I felt emotions that connected me to much of our pioneering spirit in paragliding. Columbia was the largest, fastest, and most complicated “glider” to ever fly through the atmosphere of earth. The interaction between Columbia and earth’s atmosphere at the time of transition from spacecraft to glider created the destruction of the craft and the deaths of the 7 pioneers on board.
Pioneers take chances and sometimes put their lives at risk in order to experience excitement, newness, and extend the knowledge and understanding within themselves and our species. Explorers do this because they love it. They enjoy the process of feeling new brain cell firings with the coming of new thoughts, of accomplishing something no one else has ever done before, of creating a new sensation within themselves, and of learning something that no one else has ever learned. Humans love the experience of learning. It is what makes us all explorers.
Foot launched aviation is full of pioneers and explorers. We don’t fly at mach-18, but we do fly through the earth’s atmosphere and explore our ability to use its volatility to stay aloft in it, be a part of it, for longer periods of time over longer distances.
The faster an aircraft flies through the atmosphere, the less it participates in the experience of that particular piece of atmosphere. Paragliders and hang gliders can circle in a thermal mapping its width, height, strengths, and weaknesses; the changing nuances of lift/sink, density and moisture content, heat and cold, lapse rate and condensation, energy dispensation and transfer, and many other specific interactions between our wing/body and our planet’s atmosphere. No pilot in an enclosed powered aircraft can experience and participate with the atmosphere in the way that foot launched, free flight aviation can.
When you pioneer a new flying site, you are responsible for extending the limits of the sport.  If you develop a new aerobatics maneuver you are creating a new understanding of managing the energies of a wing in a coordinated, intentional manner. When one of us flies over the length of a mountain range that has never been flown over before or flies for a longer time or distance, we take risks. Some of our numbers have died plunging into such risks. Some have died pushing their own personal limits, learning how to land or soar or thermal, or how to choose the proper glider for themselves or how to best balance finances with quality of instruction. These can all produce death or add to life, depending on what we choose.
Extending our limits (whether in space, in the atmosphere, or in our hearts) increases our risk of survival and also our quality of and excitement for life, personally and collectively. NASA constantly hones in on safety, focusing huge amounts of energy toward that end. Deaths tend to happen more frequently when involved in any pioneering activities. This fact demands that we learn from every flight, from every interaction with another pilot, from every story we hear.
When exploring cross-country routes, we learn what works and what doesn’t over an extended period of time. The sailors who established routes across the Atlantic learned to avoid the Sargasso Sea, to use the Gulf Stream current etc. We have a XC route in Utah where we fly around an area labeled “The Red Hole” on a state map.  We avoid it, like the sailors avoided the Sargasso Sea, because everyone who has flown over it has experienced massive sink, losing sometimes over 10,000 ft of altitude in 1 or 2 miles of travel. We have learned, at least for the first part of the flight, where we are most likely to find lift and sink.
The Columbia astronauts could have stayed home and watched TV and might still be alive today, but would their lives have been as fulfilling? How much quantity of life are we willing to possibly give up in order to add quality? We each choose.
A Pioneer stretches limits. Whether you stretch your own personal limits or those of your species you are taking chances with your life. Do it wisely, with as much preparation and understanding as you can gather. This won’t guarantee your safety, but it will stretch a fulfilling smile through your heart that will last forever.