Saturday, February 01, 2003
Shuttle Columbia

The loss of Space Shuttle Columbia is horrible news. I saw it go up just sixteen days ago and posted pictures of the launch (here) as seen here from sixty or so miles north of Cape Canaveral. I knew it was coming home today, but I wasn't as keyed into the return time as I had been to the launch. The Shuttle approach goes over Orlando, and they hear the sonic booms of the braking manouver there, but, to my knowledge, there's nothing to observe directly here in Daytona Beach.

My sympathies go to the crew members' families and friends, and to those who are affiliated with the shuttle program. My hope is that we (take your pick: as species or as nationality) continue to go into space. This tragedy is an opportunity for all of us to renew our committments to such exploration.

The risks associated with space flight will never go away, but the activity is worthwhile and noble, even, in some ways, essential. Let's honor the memory of the Columbia crew -- and of all who have died in making space exploration a reality -- by remaining determined to explore beyond the planet.

Somewhere on a shelf at home, there's an old VHS tape of the initial Columbia mission with John Young and Robert Crippen. That was back when HBO was about the only cable network, and it carried the NASA feed of Columbia's launch and successful return. It was a worriesome flight, both because of the risks of the launch -- the solid rocket boosters whose O-rings failed in the Challenger flight -- and those of the return -- no one had ever piloted an unpowered flying brick home from space previously.

Now the possible negative outcome of the second of those concerns has apparently made itself manifest. As we wait, possibly months, to find out what happened, let's remember and respect the accomplishments of all the people who have left this planet and seen it from above.