When astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, it seemed obvious to a six-year-old that lunar tourism would soon be a thing. If you had asked me whether I thought it was more likely to travel to the Barents Sea in the Arctic Ocean or the Sea of Tranquility on the moon before I died, I would absolutely have picked the Sea of Tranquility.
If I had been better at math, I might have realized that I would only be 37 years old by 2000, but it was hard to imagine large numbers of people then alive in 1969, including myself, who would actually live until 2000. Now I am farther from 2000 on the plus side (21 years) than my high school graduation and the start of the Reagan presidency (1981) were on the minus side (19 years).
Next year we will be twice as far from 2000 as 2000 was from the fall of the Berlin Wall (1989) which, at the time, still seemed immeasurably distant from the turn of the century, especially for those of us who knew that the century could not turn until we had common, generalized space travel for civilians.
Ten years from now, we will be as far from 2000 as 2000 is from the first lunar landing. I still don’t own a spaceship and do not expect to ever see the earth rising over the lunar horizon from my vacation bungalow in the Sea of Tranquility.
This got me thinking of a series of “we are as far from X as X is from Y” calculations. Some are surprising in one direction, some in the other, and some not at all. I suspect the biggest surprises are between events that a given person remembers from personal experience and events she knows only from reading history.
We are a bit closer to the founding of Instagram (2010) and a bit farther from the founding of Airbnb (2008) than those events are from the founding of Google (1998).
In two years (2023), we will be as far from the introduction of the iPhone (2007) as the introduction of the iPhone is from the fall of the Soviet Union (1991 is the last time the Hammer and Sickle flew over the Kremlin).
We are as far from the founding of Google (1998) as the founding of Google is from the end of the Vietnam War (1975).
We are about as far from the first African American to walk in space (Dr Bernard A Harris, Jr. in 1995) and the founding of EBay, as those events were from the first moonwalk (1969).
In 1957, the Soviets launched an 86kg beach-ball-sized sphere into very low-earth orbit (134 miles at perigee) that did nothing but send 1-watt radio pulses 0.3s long on two frequencies (Sputnik, 1957). Fourteen years later, American astronauts were driving a small car on the moon 238,900 miles away (the Lunar Roving Vehicle, 1971). It took roughly the same amount of time to advance from the iPhone to the iPhone 12.
We are about as far from the founding of Amazon (1994, 27 years ago) as the founding of Amazon is from the Tet Offensive (1968, 26 years earlier).
We are as far from the end of the Vietnam War (1975) as the end of the war is from the stock market crash of 1929.
We are as far from the Watergate break-in (1972) as the Watergate break-in was from the end of the American Indian Wars (which ran from 1609 to 1924).
We are as close to the riots in Watts and Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery (1965) as those events are to the armed conflict between the U.S. government and Oklahoma tribes rejecting forced settlement (1909).
We are about as far from the Kennedy assassination (1963) as the assassination was from the year the southeastern American Indians displaced to what is now Oklahoma were initially forced to privatize their lands (1905).
We are slightly closer to the fall of Diem Bien Phu and the beginning of major US involvement in the Vietnam War (1954), the debut of Elvis Presley (1954) and my parents wedding (1954) than those events were to the surrender of Geronimo (1886). The end of the Korean War is longer ago for us than the surrender of Geronimo was for people at the end of the Korean War (1953).
We are slightly farther from the crash of 1929 than the crash was from the Trail of Tears (1838), the beginning of the forcible removal of the Cherokee from the southeastern states to what is now Oklahoma. We are slightly closer to the crash of 1929 than the crash was to Darwin’s return to England with the H.M.S. Beagle (1836).
We are as far from The Trail of Tears (1838) as it is from the coronation of Louis XIV (1654).
We are as far from the Boston Massacre (1770), one of the key events leading up to the American War of Independence, as that event is from the Spanish attack on the Aztecs (1519). The Boston Tea Party (1773) is slightly closer to us than it is to the fall of the Aztec empire (1521).
We are farther from Martin Luther King’s assassination (1968) than the assassination was from the end of World War I (1918, 53 years vs 50 years).
The end of World War II (1945) is longer ago for us than the end of the Civil War (1865) was in 1945 (76 years vs 80 years).
We are about as far from the bombing of Pearl Harbor (1941) as the bombing of Pearl Harbor was from the start of the Civil War (1861).
We are closer to the California Gold Rush (1849, 172 years ago) than the Gold Rush was from the Siege of Vienna (1683, 166 years earlier) when Muslim forces under Kara Mustafa Pasha, grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire, almost captured Vienna with hopes of making it the springboard for conquest of much of Europe. Vienna was surrounded for four months by a vastly superior force and had reached the point where the walls were breached and surrender imminent when the siege was finally broken after 60,000 relief forces arrived on September 11, 1683, the other September 11 we will never forget. Right? You haven’t forgotten have you? Had the Ottoman forces occupied the fortified city, Vienna might be a Muslim city to this day. And maybe Berlin. In other words, the Forty-Niners were closer to the near conquest of a large portion of Central Europe by Muslims than we are to the Forty-Niners.
We are about as far from the final defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo (1815) as Waterloo was from the founding of Jamestown (1609).
We are about as far from the founding of Jamestown (1609, 412 years ago) as the founding of Jamestown was from the death of Richard the Lionhearted (1199, 410 years before), the crusader king whose return is much awaited in the Robin Hood stories.
We are much closer to Alexandre Dumas’ publication of the Three Musketeers (1844, 177 years ago) than Dumas was to the events depicted (beginning in 1630, 214 years earlier).
If they were alive today, this year the birthday they would celebrate would be:
- Ronald Reagan, 110 years old
- John Kennedy, 104 years old
- FDR, 139 years old
- Abraham Lincoln, 212 years old
- George Washington, 289 years old
- Martin Luther King, 92 years old
- Martin Luther, 538 years old
- Einstein, 142 years old
- Darwin, 212 years old (same as Lincoln)
- Newton, 379 years old
- Copernicus, 548 years old
If you have another “midway point” juxtaposition you find interesting, drop it in the comments.