To anyone who has ever concentrated really hard, even in August, positioning the wings and tail just right and, tongue between teeth, launched a balsa airplane into the perfect frontyard breeze and watched it soar and dip and then inexplicably soar more, nearly to the street corner, the news that NASA has flown an unmanned elongated flying wing to a record altitude of 96,500 feet inspires awe.
"Awesome" is applied to many things nowadays, including even teenage singers. However, not much inspires old-fashioned, genuine jaw-dropping awe. After all, we've golfed on the moon, remotely driven--and broken--a toy car on Mars and dispatched a lonely satellite to beyond our galaxy with messages for beings we can't imagine. Earthlings still blow each other up for religious and ethnic reasons. But we've beaten smallpox and are closing on other afflictions. We watch live TV transmitted from orbiting space stations and then blithely mute it to take an intercontinental cell call, complaining about static.