Blog Master G

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Mere Degrees from the Columbia Astronauts

Thursday, February 6th, 2003 · 2 Comments

As the world knows all too well by now, Saturday morning brought a great tragedy: The loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. After my initial sorrow and compassion for the families left behind by the astronauts, my first reaction was along the lines of: Isn’t it about time we learned our lesson that humans aren’t meant to travel in space? Isn’t it time we redirect some of our tax dollars to problems here on Earth?

After much reflecting and reading this week about the tragedy, though, I now feel that space travel, exploration, and research should continue.

Why? Aside from the research that does benefit life on Earth, primarily because space travel is a dream shared by people around the world that inspires the imagination of the child. Growing up, I recall my obsession with space — constantly flipping through my favorite books on the solar system and keeping the space pages of the Encyclopedia Britannica dutifully bookmarked for easy access. I remember lying on the floor staring at those pictures and daydreaming about what it would be like to be in space, to walk on the moon. To this day, I still find it incredible that humankind has discovered how to achieve space flight.

It also occurred to me this week that the track record of the Space Shuttle program is impressive. Considering the danger of space travel and the sophisticated technology required, it’s amazing that of the 113 shuttle missions to date, this is only the 2nd shuttle to have been lost during flight (of course, the Challenger in 1986 being the last). I seem to recall having read this week about a 3rd U.S. incident that involved fatalities, but I believe that happened on the launch pad. There were only 2 other accidents involving at least one fatality (both former Soviet Union accidents in 1967 and 1971). Now that’s a track record. So of course it’s going to be a big deal when something goes wrong.

How many people die in car accidents every day? Quite a bit more than the handful of lives that have been lost in the name of science and discovery, that’s for sure.

Another interesting twist this week that brought it all closer to home was my realization that I’m only about 3 degrees removed from all of the astronauts who died with Columbia. You see, I know a fellow Vassar alum who works for NASA (Ames Research Center). Separately, while trying to sell my Spikes-Spiders, I began corresponding with an interested party who also works for NASA Ames. We’ve corresponded via email and have also talked at length on the phone. He knew 2 of the 7 astronauts aboard Columbia. He also knows my fellow alum. It’s a very small world.

My friend Dan links to a number of good articles on the topic, including this 1980 prophetic criticism of space travel.

Questions remain and the future of the Space Suttle program is up in the air, but the awe of space travel will always be an exciting dream for past and future generations.

I’m intrigued by what the mysterious purple bolts might be. And I’m inspired by essays like this one, which quotes Carl Sagan’s take on space following the Apollo’s mission to the moon and the resulting photographs:

    For the first time, the inhabitants of Earth could see their world from above — the whole Earth, the Earth in color, the Earth as an exquisite spinning white and blue ball set against the vast darkness of space. Those images helped awaken our slumbering planetary consciousness. They provide incontestable evidence that we all share the same vulnerable planet.

It’s important for us to remember that in the bigger picture of the galaxy and our universe, we are but one small planet. And space travel helps us not forget the context of our existence.

Tags: the world

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Dave Reed // Feb 6, 2003 at 5:09 pm

    The major question would be whether whatever we are learning through this space program is actually worth the money anymore. I think maybe NASA and the media needs to help educate the masses as to what we gain from the space program itself.

    With that said, the media is also the problem. I was reminded of a question posed on TV, asking what the most-common cause of death was among a few choices. Though I do not remember the specifics, the one that people chose the most was something that was seen in the media most often. The problem with the media is that it glorifies the negative while glossing over or ignoring the positive.

    (On a side note, apparently there was a local paper in Carmichael whose sole purpose was to publish good news and nothing else. It lasted only a few editions before going out of business due to a lack of subscribers. Just something that makes me question whether media immitates life, or life immitates media.)

  • 2 term life insurance // Oct 7, 2003 at 12:06 am