February 1st, 2003

Nicodemus

In Memoriam

Once again we are reminded that space exploration is a risky and difficult undertaking, never to be seen as routine.

We raced into space, pushing into new frontiers at the call of president Kennedy. We reached the moon, losing good men in the process (RIP Grissom, et al). We refined our techniques, scaled back our goals to orbital access, and spaceflight continued. Government cutbacks thinned the budget while requiring the same flight schedule. We lost good people (RIP Scobee, et al) and took a hard examining look at NASA.

But we recognized we wanted to be in space. We continued, putting up shuttle missions and ultimately the ISS, man's first continuous occupation of space. Again, budget cutbacks in the lull between the glories hobble us; NASA was reduced to buying replacement parts for the shuttle on eBay. Really.

Now we've had another tragedy, as Columbia (RIP Husband, et al) joins the list, we once again must consider whether we are ready to commit ourselves. I sincerely hope we do. There is so much to gain from space; advances and spinoffs and research we can't even guess. The ISS is a triumph: our people are living in a truly alien environment. We have a chance, as a species, to transcend our small womb planet. Will we?

More pressingly, how will the NASA investigation proceed? What will Bush's reaction be? And what will happen to the ISS crew up there now? After Challenger, the shuttle program was grounded for years. That isn't an option now, as we need to rotate crews. Will the crew use the Soyuz escape vehicle and abandon the ISS? Will we step back from the frontier, afraid of losses and costs? I fear. I fear for all of us.
  • Current Music
    The hum of NASA-TV's PAO audio feed
Nicodemus

Technical NASA Links

For those interested in technical aspects, here's some references:

STS-107 Mission page
KSC Landing News page
Minute-by-minute log of spaceflight operations during entry
NASA Human Spaceflight site (currently swamped in traffic)
Space Shuttle Technical Reference for news and public, including:
- Landing Operations procedures summary
- Thermal Protection System including orbiter surface tile descriptions; debris on takeoff hit tiles on the left wing, but experts believed damage was not a problem.
- Landing Gear Systems on the orbiter; one of the last communications regarded pressure problems in this area.