Sending People Into Space

Today is the 1st anniversary of the Columbia disaster. No one knew, as the Shuttle was climbing from the pad, the die had been cast. Even scarier – if we would have known at that point, nothing could have been done.

There is no doubt the astronauts who fly the Shuttle and International Space Station, and before them the earlier crews, know the dangers they face. Do we?

It should have come as no surprise that astronauts died a year ago. Leaving our atmosphere is inherently dangerous. There are thousands of critical components and systems, any one of which could shape the same outcome. NASA has had plenty of close calls before.

It has been my opinion, and it seems to be born out by what I’ve read, that NASA has taken a less than rigorous attitude toward full safety. The conditions they allowed the astronauts to fly to aboard the Soviet MIR were shocking, to say the least. Of course we’ve all read that NASA experts played down fears about the very foam collision that was the Shuttle’s undoing.

We will fix the foam, and the wings and anything else that’s been made obvious by the events of February 1, 2003, but the changes will only marginally improve the safety of the crew. There are still those thousands of parts and systems. As long as men fly in space, there will be danger and there will be death.

This is a profession so dangerous that you can get killed just practicing – as we found out with Apollo One.

It’s time we, as a nation, took a look at the facts, and made a decision. Is what we’re doing in space worth jeopardizing human lives? I say no.

Look back at Columbia. It was a ‘junk science’ mission. There was little of any scientific import on board. Our other major manned program, the International Space Station, isn’t much better. Even if it weren’t crippled by a caretaker crew, it would be accomplishing few things worth writing home about.

Why are we doing this? Is it a matter of pride? In this day and age there’s a better way to explore – robotically. We are proving, on Mars, with Stardust and other missions , that robots can accomplish the same, or more, than man. And, it’s being done at a significant savings, with little human danger.

Don’t underestimate the cost. My producer at SciFi used to say that if, somehow, the Shuttle’s payload bay was mysteriously filled with gold while in orbit, the mission would still lose money!

The time to change our attitude is now. If the goal is to explore space, let’s do it the right way – so there can be worthwhile science and exploration. As it stands now, the space program is crippled by the fear of further disaster… and there will be further disaster. It’s only a matter of time.

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