Sunday, February 02, 2003

There's no point in me recapping any of the tragic events of the shuttle Columbia. But, I do feel I need to say something about it.

Space, the travel and exploration of it, has grabbed hold of my mind ever since I was a child. So much that I even went to Space Camp. Remember that movie with Kate Capshaw and Leaf, *ahem* Joaquin Pheonix? Well, yeah, there is an actual Space Camp, and I went there for a week one summer. In the end, I was the Flight Commander for my teams' simulated shuttle mission. What I remember of that mock-up was everything going wrong. We had to abort the first take-off after already lifting off from the tower. After landing the glider safely, they restarted the mission and soon we were in simulated space. Not long after that, nearly every emergency light lit up and we had to figure out how to correct the problems. From lost communications to oxygen leaks, we had to fix it all and complete the mission. It was very nerve-racking and difficult, and I go so involved with "role-playing" the Flight Commander that I had to threaten the "scientists" who weren't taking things seriously with throwing them in the airlock so we could fix all the problems in peace. In the end, I think that threat was reviewed negatively and we ended up second place in the mission competions, behind by a point. But dammit, they shut-up and we completed the mission successfully. So, yeah, I really dig on space exploration. In fact, I have no doubt that one day man will be able to safely and successfully travel to galaxies far, far away.

So, I've been thinking a good deal about the Columbia tragedy. One thing you have to realize about space travel and re-entering the earth's atmosphere is that you have to glide that shuttle in at just the right angle. I mean, if the right angle is 7 degrees, you're toast if you bring her in at 7 1/2 degrees. It's a wonder that Luke Skywalker or Han Solo never had trouble coming in for a landing. I really do think space travel one day be as effortless as it is appears in the movies. Obviously, that day is a very long way off.

It's even more of a wonder that in over 150 manned U. S space flights, we've only lost lives on three: Challenger, Columbia and one of the Apollo missions. Add Apollo XIII to the mix, and we've only had major disasters with 4 flights. When you realize that we are actually dealing with rocket science, that is a staggering amount of success. It's truly amazing that more hasn't gone horribly wrong. And that's a testament to the spirit and raw guts of everyone involved in the space program. Every single astronaut puts his life at risk for the greater good. They know it and accept it. They know if they go up, there's a good chance they might not come down. Yet, somehow, they summon the courage to spit in death's face.

The day will come when man can book a flight to Planet X and it'll be like flying from New York to L.A. The day will come when man is flying a one-seater spaceship like Air Force pilots fly jets today. When that day comes, the people who risked their lives and died so humankind could become more advanced will most likely have been forgotten and will probably be nothing more than a footnote in history, and that is probably the biggest tragedy of all.

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