Friday, January 29, 2010

Four Moments Of Silence


A sad, sad week for the space program -- in more ways than one. Of course, three major NASA tragedies all occurred in different years but in the same week, and it’s important to remember the contributions of the astronauts who risked their lives for our efforts in space exploration:

January 27, 1967... Apollo 1 lost
January 28, 1986... Challenger STS-51L lost

February 1, 2003... Columbia STS-107 lost

Challenger Memorial Park, Houston
Challenger Memorial Park, Houston
Click to see full gallery)

We had all hoped for a more positive announcement in the President's first State of the Union address, and were disappointed to have no bold or visionary announcement for the space program.

Behind the scenes, and despite already spending billions on these goals, it seems Constellation has been crippled, Ares outright cancelled, and all the plans outlined by the Bush Administration dashed... another casualty of our current recession.

Possible loss of jobs, loss of stature as world leaders, and our inability to encourage new generations of youngsters to be passionate about science and astronomy... well, it’s a fearsome picture that bodes not well for our national future.

I won't delve into gruesome detail, because the news is all over the internet now in various space forums who are far more adept at "reporting" than I am. In between gritting my teeth at how maddeningly vague our leaders have been about how the chips will finally fall, I’ve forced myself to read between the lines: The life of the ISS has been extended, money will be forthcoming for LEO scientific experiments and other crucial projects such as the new Webb Telescope, but the way in which all the articles cite sources who "don’t wish to be named" or who "aren’t authorized to speak officially" is downright cowardly.

In my mind, I had a flash of Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell in Apollo 13: "We just lost the moon."

No lunar base, no clear path to Mars. A looming gap in launch and crew vehicles. No more giant leaps for mankind in the foreseeable future.

They tried to soften the blow by saying our hopes should rest with their plans to "encourage private industry" to collaborate with NASA in future endeavours... but for many of us, that’s just not good enough. Sorry to interrupt the fun and end the week on such a downer, but I guess if it didn't rain once in awhile, we'd never appreciate the sunshine.


Devin S. in The Dells said...

WEll, I guess there thinking is that the last little money left could be used for stuff on Earth that matters more than exploring space.

lisleman said...

I didn't realize those tragedies occurred in the same time of the year. I'm sure someone would blame some superstition.

About the funding - no simple answer and of course not all programs can survive nor should they.

The important part is education of the public of the benefits that come from these space efforts. Your blog helps. So I'm preaching to the choir.

Congress is so short sighted, so concerned about polls, and not willing to work together.

I liked your post - thanks

PillowNaut said...

@Devin: "money could be used for stuff on Earth that matters more than exploring space."

I guess if we didn't have to watch Congress VOTING THEMSELVES A RAISE EVERY YEAR, I might actually buy that excuse.

@Lisleman: "so concerned about polls and not willing to work together."

You nailed it.

Amnon I. Govrin said...

It is sad indeed, first for the families but also for space exploration - we're celebrating 40 year old accomplishments that haven't been surpassed and remembering the disasters, most of which are recent.

Wait for the president after Obama who will declare bold plans to build a better moon base than the Chinese will have by then...ingrog

Sach said...

I thought the real white house plan for the future doesn't come out till the 1st Feb 2010. Though I also heard that their are lots of rumors doing rounds....

I'm going by the Planetary Society article:

Norman Copeland said...

Better the devil you know...

Craig said...

Heather, as always thank you for your words. Many are distressed by the information swirling around in the blogs, forums, and news. In truth, we really won't know what the President's plan is until it gets published. Until then, these are just words from shadowy people who are afraid to give their names.

The things this great country can do, and should do through NASA are enormous. I for one do not believe Constellation is dead, I don't think Congress will let it die. The President may have other plans, but it is Congress that passes the funding bills.

The benefits that we gain from Human space flight is much more numerous than many people realize.

Sidd said...

I certainly wish I had a true vote on where my tax dollars go. A diminished space program is short-sighted and wrong in so many ways. Thanks for putting a voice to it.

PillowNaut said...

Sorry if some feel I have "jumped the gun" by what's in the news. I know Bolden's speech is set for February 1st and I'll be tuning into that as well ... but I faced this fact last week: If the good news out-weighed the bad news, Obama would have included it in his State of the Union address. Thus, I doubt any of those nameless "leaks" were accidental.

I hope I'm wrong. You have no idea how happy I'd be to retract the assumptions in this post.