Progress seen in stages
Ingenuity rose from the ground through the thin Martian atmosphere, its rotor blades churning at 2,400 rotations per minute. The tiny helicopter reached a height of 10 feet and stayed aloft for 39 seconds, seemingly modest amounts, except that no helicopter or other human-made machine had made such a powered flight of any height or any length of time on Mars or any other non-Earth celestial body until then.
The achievement was years in the making, a triumph of engineering, imagination and perseverance.
The flight took place Monday, and it turned out to be a metaphor for the week that lay ahead, a week that now has passed, a week that saw lots of progress that demanded to be placed in perspective.
It was a week that saw a Minneapolis jury find former police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd. It took the panel 10 hours to reach its verdict, another development that was much longer in the making. It followed years of similar incidents without similar accountability, which stoked a growing awareness and angst and anger over bias in policing, and the conviction became possible and perhaps inevitable because of a video recording of the killing made by a courageous teen.
And as the trial and deliberations proceeded and concluded, Congress continued to wrestle with police reform legislation, a new poll found that 60% of Americans say the nation needs to hold police more accountable for mistreating Blacks, and the Department of Justice opened an investigation into whether the Minneapolis Police Department routinely treats minorities unfairly. And all this even as other youths of color in other communities around the nation were killed by police officers, stoking more angst and anger.
It was a week that saw President Joe Biden set ambitious new goals to combat climate change and try to reclaim a leadership mantle in the global war against it. He's been in office about three months, but this was much longer in the making, following years of growing evidence of the damage being wrought by rising temperatures and demands by growing numbers of Americans that our political leaders take the fight seriously.
And political opponents in Washington said his plans were unnecessary and harmful, and some allies said they were not enough, and overseas leaders basically said they'd wait to see whether the U.S. is really back in the fight after four years of abdication.
It was a week during which reports emerged that elite universities this year admitted more minority students than ever, citing increased priorities on diversity amid the growing racial justice movement and the abandonment of standardized testing in the pandemic, which required admissions officers to evaluate students on other credentials.
And yet the tests undoubtedly will come back and then what? And many other minority students in community colleges dropped out for COVID-19-related reasons, and it's not clear whether they will return.
Progress was made last week. In every case, we moved forward. But the stories are incomplete. They lack closure. Because there's always more to do. Progress on our biggest problems is measured along vaulting arcs. We have to take smaller steps as we travel those arcs, and the steps never end. But, we hope, they get a little easier as we go.
Ingenuity flew again Thursday, for 59 seconds this time. It climbed to 16 feet this time, and moved a little more, seven feet to the side, And it turned itself so its camera could take photos in several directions. Longer flights will happen in the coming days. Other machines will be built from what is learned now.
May Ingenuity be a metaphor for the future, too.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday's editorial board.