2003-02-01 - 11:35 a.m.
Columbia - First Reactions
I just found out about the Space Shuttle Columbia's loss during landing.
I had planned to take Liralyn to the Jackson Space Center today. Suddenly I didn't want to, not any little bit.
Normally I try to just carry on with what I'm doing when this sort of tragedy happens. You can't bring back the dead by feeling bad about what happened to them. But I'm not just up to being the cool Dad, ooing and aaing over the rockets and moon rocks, when I know that all I'll be thinking is "oh man, what an awful day."
I also feel bad for everyone at NASA right now. If this turns out to have been a foreseeable problem, some dude's life is about to be ruined. If not, almost everyone at NASA's life is about to be ruined. What I know of engineers tells me it's going to be exactly like the first episode of HBO's From the Earth to the Moon - everyone alternately glad it wasn't their fault and nonetheless wishing there had been some way they could have prevented it. Those astronauts trust the engineers to keep the Shuttle safe. Nobody wants to betray that trust.
In the strictly pragmatic sense, we're going to have some trouble with the space program now. Once they're no longer grounded (as I'm sure they will be, for a while) we'll still only have two Shuttles. The operational tempo possible with each individual Shuttle never met the original goals anyway, so now our launch capability will be way behind expectations. Everything that depends on that tempo, like the International Space Station and plans for an eventual manned mission to Mars, will have to be reexamined.
I've been reading science fiction since I was a wee little boy. I firmly believe that our destiny as a species lies in space. I have nothing but admiration for the people who risk their lives bringing that destiny closer to fruition. Seven such people died today, and their death makes me feel horrible in a way that 9/11 never did.