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.