Saturday, January 29, 2011

25 years after Challenger

I'm a day late, but I still didn't want the quarter century anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew to slip into history unnoticed.

I just finished watching the Progress 41 cargo ship dock to the Pirs compartment on the International Space Station. Twenty-five years and a day after Challenger tumbled into the Atlantic, the fantastically complex and near-miraculous business of space continued uninterrupted some 220 miles above our heads. And I got to watch it from my netbook as I wandered around the house excitedly showing the Internet-streamed spectacle anyone I could find.

I'm nowhere near convinced we've learned our lessons from that terrible morning a generation ago - among them, communicate with each other, and appreciate that any technology is subject to the same weaknesses inherent in those who created it - because since then we've lost another orbiter and witnessed the slow dismantling of America's space program.

President Obama may have been trying to evoke JFK when he dropped the "Sputnik moment" line during last week's State of the Union address, but the sad reality is western society no longer believes space exploration deserves priority treatment or funding. The myopia which had clouded U.S. space policy decisions since the end of the Apollo era is showing no signs of clearing up. If anything, it's worsening. Which makes me wonder what the astronauts who died trying to build a space-based future would have thought.

Your turn: Does space exploration have a future? Should it? Why/why not?

One more thing: I'm a bit of a space-head, and have written about this subject both on this blog and in print in years past. Here's what I wrote five years ago, and here's a column I wrote in the wake of the second shuttle accident.


Kavi said...

Science...where the sky is not the limit !

we need to keep pushing borders further up there to expand our horizons

Unknown said...

Carmi: The International Space Station, for me, holds great promise for improving the quality of our lives here on Earth. I honestly don't have a feeling or direction for future space flights beyond this focus at the present time. Colonel Frank Borman's book, "Countdown" describes a much different NASA than the one of today. Great post!

Kalei's Best Friend said...

Personally, I think any EXPLORATION is beneficial..I had heard that the space station was defunct... As far as the Challenger tragedy, I remember it... and u r right we haven't learned.. look at the oil destruction in the Southern U.S.

JJ said...

Carmi: While the jury is still out for me, I tend to favor exploration. With the way in which we have screwed up the planet, I think humankind owes it to itself to seek out the possibility of a better world.

I saw the Challenger explode. Christa McAuliffe taught at one of the local schools where I lived at the time, and everyone was excited for the future. The tragedy squashed that enthusiasm in all of us. However, I would like to think that young person sacrificed her life for something.

Perhaps, with our current economy, it is like throwing good money after bad with a loser hand in a poker game, but I cannot help but believe that somewhere out there a glimmer of hope exists.

21 Wits said...

Great post, and I remember that time so well, did it hit home harder for me at the time raising a new daughter, (for sure) I also think our President brought up Sputnik and other things to evoke feelings many have forgotten, and remind Americans of important things we seem to ignore and especially of other priorities to build a better place to raise our families and to stir inspiration in all of us.....

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

Watching the loss of 7 lives and many dreams 25 years ago, and then having watch it once again in the skies over Texas while I was living there... I think our mindset has become one of weighing the actual losses against potential gains. The Challenger disaster was tragic; the Columbia disaster was deeply disheartening, and that is where I think we lost our will to keep going.

Mark said...

I often wonder whether it's worth the trouble of spending money and lives to know whether or not life ever existed on Mars or anywhere else. We know what harms our own planet (okay, so not everybody agrees), so I'm not sure why we really care if life ever existed somewhere else. Does such knowledge benefit Earth or her inhabitants? Is it just so we geeky ones can think how cool it is?

The orbital projects around Earth, however, definitely can benefit us, so maybe that's where we need to concentrate our efforts. It's still all a very dangerous business, so maybe the lowest bidder approach is not the best solution.