No one really thinks about the versatility and usefulness of air until it is really needed. The lack of air can kill; polluted air can cause illness. This necessity of life is free - who could put a price tag on air? However, as technology advances, there are newer and better ways to get cleaner and healthier air. Surprisingly, air is a mixture of mainly two other gases that if breathed alone would kill a human, namely nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrogen makes up roughly 78% of Earth's atmosphere. This inert, odorless and tasteless gas is the building blocks of most living beings on the planet.
Nitrogen is also a non-metallic gas than is found in amino acids. In addition, nitrogen displaces oxygen. Therefore, asphyxiation and death follow those that breath in too much nitrogen. Oxygen makes up roughly another 21% of Earth's atmosphere.
In commonality, nitrogen ranks second on the planet and a whopping third in the universe. Through a process called photosynthesis, oxygen is released by flora. Oxygen can actually prove deadly if breathed in its purest form proving that too much of what's good for us is not always for the best. Anyone who is a student or a fan of Greek mythology has heard the legend of Icarus. King Minos imprisoned this young man with his father, Daedalus, on the isle of Crete.
Daedalus made plans for escape not via the water since the water was patrolled frequently by King Minos' watchful guard, but instead, made plans to escape via air. Daedalus fashioned two pair of feather wings: one for himself and one for his son. When the time came to escape, Daedalus warned his son not to fly to low because the dampness would clog the wings and flying too high would melt the glue. Upon telling his son to stay close while in the air, they departed their prison.
However, the young Icarus did not heed his father's advice. Icarus flew too high and met with an untimely end. Of course, Icarus has been the subject of many legends and fables that are still in our society today. This love of mastering the air around us via flight has not stopped since Icarus.
In England, George Cayley first flew through the air in his manned glider - the year was 1853. The first highly documented and recorded flight was the Wright Brothers on December 17, 1903. They were not the first, and they would be far from the last.
Our love of adventure and our love of flight has taken us higher than even Icarus could have imagined. Man has been to the moon and sent unmanned space craft to explore distant planets where he could not survive alone due to the lack of air. It is clear that air has an alluring aspect that draws us to it like a moth to a flame. No doubt that were Icarus alive today, he would be impressed by our accomplishments. I bet Icarus would also warn us that flying to close to the sun has consequences.
Stephen Thomas writes about air and runs an air related resource website at http://www.airi.co.uk .