Looking through old blog articles written at about this same time each year, I came across several that left me feeling a little blue for a while.
It’s been six years since the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas as it was descending toward Kennedy Space center in Florida.
I remember this tragedy as vividly as the 1986 Challenger accident, some seventeen years earlier. I was in high school at that time and living in Houston. The accident hit us all pretty hard but when tragedy struck again in 2003 I felt the additional loss of a personal hero.
Though reading these makes me sad, I thought they also spoke a lot about how strongly I feel about continuing to explore our world and the space beyond it. So I’ve dug them out, dusted them off and I’m re-posting them here with a few edits.
Ad astra per ardua.
Original posted on Saturday Feb 01 2003 at 10:15:53 a.m.
Subject: Damn, Damn, Damn….
I just woke up to hear the news – Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart over Texas as it was descending toward Kennedy Space center in Florida.
Damnit, this is three days after the anniversary of the 1986 Challenger accident! I still remember where I was when that happened – calculus class, my senior year in high school. Another teacher came to tell ours the news. We all thought he was kidding since he had a reputation for pranks.
It was no joke. For weeks, the city of Houston was as depressed as you could ever find it. Houston is fairly invested emotionally in the space program; NASA at the Johnson Space Center employs a lot of people, and the astronauts and their families call the surrounding area home. The Challenger Accident was utterly devastating to the community. I remember my mother driving me to school and listening to DJ’s on the radio sobbing as they played memorials for the astronauts.
My sister was the one to tell me about Columbia. She’d called and left a message early this morning. Apparently debris is being found in Houston, and I can only imagine how that city feels now.
I’d actually been aware (unlike a lot of people who take the program for granted these days) of the launch of this mission; the University where I work had a student science project aboard. It’s enormously frustrating, realizing that our space program is stuck refurbishing 20 year old shuttles. This was the 28th flight for Columbia, which was built back in 1981, making it the oldest of the fleet.
Besides the first Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon, this mission also carried one of my heroines, Kalpana Chawla. Just eight years older than myself and born in India, she went to the University of Texas in 1984 for her Masters and to my parent’s alma mater, University Of Colorado for her doctorate. Her picture has graced my personal web page about India since her first mission. I found her fascinating, beyond the fact that she’d become an astronaut, because she became a naturalized U.S. citizen and was married to a non-Indian (Jean-Pierre Harrison, a freelance flying instructor) something that was personally meaningful to me at the time.
From what’s been said so far, it looks like the re-entry of the shuttle was too fast at the wrong altitude. [2009 Note: We now know that a piece of foam insulation broke off the Space Shuttle's external tank, striking the leading edge of the left wing and damaging tiles which protect the Shuttle during re-entry. ] Given what they’re saying, it’s not surprising that it would break apart. So far no evidence of terrorism, and I’m not surprised. If it was terrorism I’m sure something would have been done at launch. This is much more likely due to the aging of our space program fleet.
Original posted Saturday Feb 02 16:49:22 2003
Subject: A whole bunch of news links about Kalpala Chawla
Even if they could never figure out what happened and even if there was a huge risk of it happening again as soon as the next Shuttle went up (and we’re going to have to figure out if it will, since there are folks on the International Space Station), if someone asked me tomorrow (or even right now) if I would take the risk and go into space, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. No hesitation; I know the risks. I’d go.
I hope this tragedy doesn’t have a lasting negative effect on the space program. I hope it instead serves to strengthen our resolve to explore and to do the science that reaches into space, despite the risks.
Original posted Monday February 03, 2003 at 10:34:49 a.m.
Subject: More thoughts about the Shuttle
I know I’ve been posting almost nothing else but this for the last couple of days. But dammit, the space program is near and dear to my heart and so I’ve been reading what others are saying on their blogs. There are many that echo the general sentiments I’ve posted her and few that also echo my sentiments about the people who think we should scrap the space program.
The more I think about it, the more angry and upset I am at the supposedly enlightened response I’ve gotten from fellow feminists with regards to recent events. I’m well aware of the work that still needs to be done here on this planet and the kinds of worthy causes struggling for equal time, attention and money. But even so, I just cannot understand anyone who can’t see the inherent value of something like continuing our exploration into space. Why must we feel we have to sacrifice one goal for the other? Furthermore, I’m frustrated beyond belief at the lack of knowledge of the good that has come out of the space program as well as the lack of appreciation for it.
But then, maybe I am in the minority. I’m the kind of person who wants desperately to chase a night-time thunderstorm and view it from a high vantage point so that I can actually witness “red sprites” and other recently discovered lightening phenomenon. I get goosebumps just reading about the discovery of the ceaolocanth, and would love to know more about giant squids. I’d give anything to explore space or live aboard the space station, and I miss science and research after years spent doing other things.
I feel privileged to live in this age, when the technology we’ve developed can increase our understanding of the universe by leaps and bounds. The magnitude of what we still don’t know humbles me, the glimpses into the unknown excite me and the beauty of it all leaves me in awe. And all the while I believe we can, and should, be hopeful and inquisitive. Maybe this kind of attitude is just not fashionable in a post-9/11 world. Even so, I still say that those who insist we should scrap the space program lack any real imagination, sense of awe or desire for adventure in life. You can’t convince me otherwise.
Original posted on Monday February 03 2003, at 08:11:30 p.m.
Non est ad astra mollis e terris via. (There is no easy way from the earth to the stars.)
Original posted Tuesday, February 04, 2003 at 02:47:30 p.m.
Subject: Finding the Spirit
It’s been an emotionally draining few days, watching television about Columbia, seeing other people’s grief, remembering Challenger, and feeling angry with those who would deem it all a waste.
I got to thinking today, while I noticed more and more news about Kalpana Chawla and Ilan Ramon, that the U.S. could learn something from both Israel and India’s responses.
Both individuals were the first astronauts to represent their respective homelands. (Chawla was the first astronaut for India. In 1984 Rakesh Sharma was that country’s first cosmonaut. One man, one woman, one astronaut, one cosmonaut. India had one of each.) Naturally, both countries responded with great enthusiasm and joy.
Their endeavors didn’t just spur national pride, but also served to encourage efforts to learn about earth as a planet, the solar system, astronomy and science in general. Out of each nation came a sense of excitement, awe and optimism despite the social turmoil and strife in, in the case of parts of India, even crushing poverty.
Even as they now grieve the loss of national heroes, both countries affirm that not only must exploration go on, but that the drive, determination and sense of dedication necessary to do so must go on. This is particularly true for Israel, which had pinned hopes of a boost in morale on Ramon’s venture into space. Neither country feels deterred, even in the face of overwhelming difficulties. There’s a Latin phrase, ad astra per ardua, which translates as “to the stars through hardship”. Both Israel and India seem to know what that really means.
I hope that my fellow Americans can find that same sense of “the show must go on” in terms of the commitment, drive, determination, and bravery needed to reach hard-to-reach goals, and perhaps a renewed sense of excitement at facing the unknown. I know that I and many of my close friends stand firm in that resolve. I’m recommitting myself to my support for space exploration.
Original posted Tuesday, February 04, 2003 at 5:49:29 p.m.
I was interviewed on Monday for an article regarding recent events. It went up today, and you can read it here.
Original posted on Friday, February 07, 2003 at 12:54:33 p.m.
After such a spate of entries, it feels like I’ve been really quiet in my weblog for days! I’m still here, but I’m kinda swamped at the moment. I’ve got a lot of stuff to say, but I’m trying to catch up with some reading for classes and I’m finishing up a paper for one of them. The last two weeks have been a blur of writing, (for class, at work, online) and with the weather changes the osteoarthritis in my hand has been acting up – it’s either hurting or stiff.
I’ll post more later this weekend. In the meantime, here’s a few things to think about:
Original posted Monday, February 10, 2003 at 11:43:05 a.m.
Subject: This Weekend and News Items
It was supposed to snow in my area early Saturday morning, but if it did I missed it. Rats. I was looking forward to that.
On a brighter note, I did finish my paper! Sunday was a spectacularly gorgeous day, so I got outside for a while. I also did some spring cleaning in my closet (I’ve got a few things to drop off with Goodwill now) and bought a few new clothes.
Some interesting news items in my inbox today:
BUSH SIGNS ORDER AUTHORIZING CYBER-ATTACKS
President Bush has signed a secret order allowing the government to proceed with developing guidelines on circumstances under which the U.S. could launch cyber-attacks against foreign computer systems. The directive signals Bush’s desire to pursue new forms of potential warfare — already the Pentagon has moved ahead with development of cyber-weapons that could by used by the military to invade foreign networks and shut down radar, disable electrical facilities and disrupt phone service.
Innovation in the Dead Zone
Devout Parsis have been leaving their dead to be consumed by the
vultures and the elements for centuries. But the vultures are nearly extinct and
the elements don’t always cooperate. So technology takes a hand …
The following was the stupidest commentary I’ve seen in a long while:
As hard drives get bigger and cheaper, we’re storing way too much.
The author complains that we’re storing way too much information and archiving too much of our lives because we can’t immediately consume it all. How narcissistic. Did it ever occur to this idiot that perhaps we won’t be the beneficiaries of this archived information about our lives? Hey, here’s a novel thought: Maybe future generations will benefit? Geez.
Man vs machine chess match ends in stalemate
Gary Kasparov chose to draw the deciding game of his match with the
computer program Deep Junior on Friday rather than push for a win and risk
And in news about the aftermath of the Shuttle disaster: Remains of Israeli astronaut go home. *sigh* This is but the first of seven sad homecomings and funerals.
One mini-rant regarding some of the media commentary about Columbia: I’m getting tired of hearing journalists pontificate about how it took a tragedy for us (meaning everyone) to learn the names of the seven astronauts.
SPEAK FOR YOURSELVES and your journalistic guilt at deeming the space program not worth writing about! This individual has been following the space program since she was a kid, and did know the names of those astronauts before they died. Hell, I even knew the name of one of them before she ever went up into space the first time, years ago! I’m not the only one out there. Most of my friends have kept up with the space program, if not in detail, at least more so than most journalists and political pundits have.
It just ticks me off that yet again, journalists ignore the existence of people who have long been fans of space exploration. Show me a Star Trek fan and I’ll show you someone who knows what the space program is doing right now. And what about all those schoolkids following the experiments on board the shuttle? Or the people who wake up early to watch the Shuttle fly overhead as it comes in for a landing? I’ve got news for you “news” folks. There are people out there who care about science and “nerdy” things like the space program, enough so that we don’t take them for granted, ad we’re not living under rocks. We’re not that bloody hard to find, people!
Original posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2003 at 00:30:40 a.m.
Subject: Challenger vs Columbia
My friend, Kim Allen brought this article to my attention: “Here’s a piece that compares the public and media reactions to the two disasters.”
It’s late and I need to get to bed, so I’ll just make this quick comment:
An editorial in the UK Independent claimed the disaster ‘is likely to
mark a further stage in coming to terms with the limits of human endeavor’
Uh-huh. Let’s all just lay down and quit evolving. Some things are just too hard. We should know our limitations and stay put like content little mammals in our present condition. Why strive for more? Why can’t we just be happy with the status quo?
Gag. Retch. Oh please. Somebody stick a couple of corks in this editor’s nose and let’s move on.
Yeah, I was a little annoyed with all the hand-wringing “it’s too risky and hard and it’s not worth it so we should give up and just do other things” attitude that seemed to permeate the atmosphere in 2003. I did write about it all once more:
Original posted, Friday, January 30, 2004 at 10:07:19 a.m.
Subject: Remembering Columbia
This Sunday marks the one-year anniversary the shuttle Columbia exploded in the skies over Texas. It feels much longer than that for some reason. (Maybe because I also got married, bought a house and moved. 2003 was a year of big changes.)
Unfortunately many of the memorial services and remembrances will likely be overshadowed by the Super Bowl. Even so, some have already begun.
JSC employees remember Columbia shuttle astronauts (link no longer works). See the full coverage from Houston (link no longer works).
A final thought: