It was 18 short years ago today that a crew of seven lost their lives persuing their dream. I found it sad that there was no mention in the Chicago Tribune today. Hopefully, Sunday will at least bring a comment when they commorate the Columbia.
Here's some brief thoughts I sent to some newsgroups I'm on Tuesday night (the timing is relevant to the writing of the piece). Take them for what they're worth...
In Remembrance of the Future
Well, it's that time of year again...
It's been 37 years since Apollo 1 burned on the pad, during a pre-flight test. We lost Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee in that one. To this day I think there continues to be plenty of soul-searching, but fortunately the loss of these three heros led to a revamping of the Apollo Command Module, that in all probability allowed us to actually reach the moon -- and without further loss of life.
In one more day it will be 18 years since the Challenger disaster, where
7 brave souls were lost just moments after their flight began. As with JFK's death, I think everyone knows where they were when they first heard about Challenger. In that one, we lost Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. I have very mixed feelings about Challenger, and I don't know if I can put them into words, but I'll try. I can understand 'go fever', even as I condemn it. I was glad that a "non-astronaut" was going aboard, a teacher named Christa McAuliffe, but I was mortified that the shuttle's safety record was forever marred on THIS flight. I cried for the astronauts, for their families whose joy was soaring with their loved ones dreams, only to be cast into despair in less time than it took to take a breath. And Richard Feynman, already a titan, rose even higher with his simple yet devastating challenges to the cause of the system failure.
In just a few more days, on Sunday morning, it will be 1 year since we lost Columbia, on what was to all intents and purposes a 'routine' mission, when everything seemed safe, and even the worries about one of the largest foam strikes every seen to a shuttle were being played down. They were lost during reentry, and as with Challenger, I both cried for them, and wondered how horrible those last seconds must have been. Here, we lost Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon. In many ways, this was the worst of the three tragedies for me. Part of this was the pure unexpectedness of it, because we've gotten so complacent over the years about re-entry. Part of it was the fear that this might be related to terrorism, in this post 9/11 world. Part of it was the fear that having lost a second shuttle, that America would stand down its space program, as we no longer seem to be the nation of risk-taking individuals that MADE this nation. One of the things that quelled those fears was seeing the immense strength of character in the families of the Columbia crew -- without exception, they said that we MUST move on in space exploration.
As I think about the crews of these three missions, I'm struck be something that I've never really pondered before. Even though all three missions could, conceivably, have been prevented, man isn't perfect, and mistakes will be made. Each loss that these missions forced on us, also forced a re-evaluation of the what and how of space exploration, and helped to perfect it for the future. And frankly, that is evident by the tragedies themselves. Apollo 1 didn't even make it to launch. Challenger was still on its way to orbit. But Columbia was almost home.
As horrific as each of these events was, they demonstrate the progress that has been made over the decades. The first one was pre mission, the second was beginning of mission, the third was end of mission. We are moving forward. We've been paying the price, but we're moving forward. Now that we have a new mission, that of a lunar base and Mars exploration, I think it's about damned time we honor the memories of all of these fallen astronauts by moving towards the future, strongly and with purpose. Not forgetting them, by any means, but by bringing their memories along for the ride.
Insightful comments. I'm recalling what John Glenn said that night after the Challenger tragedy. I don't reclal the exact words, but he saidthe only surprising thign about it is that we got SO FAR into our manned space flight program before the first in-flight deaths.
STS is NOT your SUV. It's not even a model T ford. It isn't even a Conestoga wagon traveling across the continent. And half of them never made it to their destinations. Yet people continued to go west. As must we continue to the stars.
Bob Kaplow NAR # 18L TRA # "Impeach the TRA BoD" >>> To reply, remove the TRABoD!
I may be a bit cynical, but I think the real show-stopper of the shuttle disasters isn't the loss of life, but rather the massive cost of the shuttles themselves.
Compare experimental aircraft to the space shuttle... I think it's safe to say that more pilots have died testing aircraft than have died in the space program. Yet crashes of experimental aircraft are barely noticed, compared to the political and media circus surrounding the crash of a space shuttle.
You can name countless other transportation system that have killed far more people than any spacecraft. If a jetliner goes down, it can kill hundreds of passengers and crew, but they keep flying them. If each jet cost as much as a space shuttle, they'd be grounded for years after the first crash, just as the shuttle was.