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.