It's been a difficult two days for all of us. I seem to have worked through it much like Owen Garriott, Huntsville resident and astronaut on Skylab 3 and STS-9. He wants more information. I've sought whatever information I could get, and come up with my theories as to what went wrong.
I remember when I was in 7th grade at lunch and someone told me, "The Shuttle blew up." Since those folks knew I liked the space program and since they always picked on me anyway, I figured they were teasing me once more. A teacher set me straight. But then, we thought NASA could do no wrong. Now we know they have had accidents and have improved the systems, but we know they're not perfect.
A college friend called me from Memphis, Tennessee at 9:30 Saturday morning and demanded, "Where's the Shuttle?" I had the TV on in seconds, shortly before they first showed the video of the breakup without being sure it was the Shuttle. I had no doubt. I've been listening to press conferences and news ever since.
Media has focused attention on the piece of foam that fell from the external tank during launch. I still haven't seen a picture of it in which I could make out the foam, but I wouldn't be surprised if there was ice attached which would have made the foam harder and heaver than they figured in their analyses. But what could they have done? Absolutely nothing. I suppose they might have aborted the launch had they figured out what happened in time, but they weren't set up to do that.
The astronauts died doing what they loved to do. They wouldn't have been happy doing anything else. They knew the risks, as did their families. (Families weren't as aware of the risks 17 years ago.) We were better prepared for such a disaster as a community, too, having seen similar things before.
I remember watching Columbia's first flight on the TV. It was spectacular, and all too brief. It was an amazing feat of engineering and technology. I have a large picture of Columbia making its second landing, in White Sands, New Mexico, over the couch in my den. It's been my favorite decoration in the space and southwest-themed room. Now we have seen Columbia's final flight. It too was spectacular, and the craft's tenure too brief. A very difficult sight indeed.
The President and Congressmen have promised that space exploration will continue. And if Owen Garriott knows, it won't be as long a hiatus as it was with Challenger. He said, "This time, it could be a quicker turnaround. We have the space station to be concerned about." Here's the full article.
We must mourn the loss, learn from it, and continue our exploration of the cosmos. Space exploration is not without its risks, and we must accept risks to do anything worthwhile.
Yours in peace,