1 February 2003
- Vehicles (Bad)
Why We Fly
Mourning Columbia
by Alan Breakstone
by Alan Breakstone

I awoke early this morning to watch Columbia's return to earth on NASA TV.
Exciting minutes turned into agonizing hours as it became clear that Columbia
and her crew would never come home again. I remember Apollo One, Soyuz One,
Soyuz 11, and Challenger, and I also lived through the forgotten loss of Mike
Adams aboard an X-15 at the edge of space in 1967. I knew the next tragedy was
inevitable, but it was still a devastating shock when the hour finally arrived.

After watching the disaster reports for several hours, I couldn't stand to
watch any more. Feeling almost as if I had lost members of my own family, I
left my home to walk off the despair. After awhile, I drifted into a nearby
bookstore and picked up a new astronomy magazine. Within its pages, I was
reminded why men and women strap themselves to hypersonic rockets, and why you
and I still wish to be among them.

Here were images of the red mountains and deserts of Mars, pictures of distant
galaxies, news of the eerie spectacle of neutron stars and the paramount
mystery of dark energy and the fate of the universe. I recalled watching a
Shuttle launch light up the night sky in Florida and seeing the bright star of
the International Space Station arc over my home on a clear evening only a
month or so ago. I also recalled the work I had just completed for Space Future,
reporting on the new passenger spacecraft being developed to win the X-Prize
and take all of us into space in the near future. I remembered why we fly.

In the weeks to come, I have no doubt there will be some who will urge an end
to space travel, claiming that the cost in money and lives is too great. But I
also have no doubt that the majority of people in my country and around the
world will see this tragedy as a moment to renew our vows to continue as a
spacefaring species.

The Shuttle will fly again. And it is not inconceivable that among its passengers will be paying tourists, as the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry has just suggested to President Bush. And within the next few years, the first private space vehicles may finally fly, opening up the heavens to everyone, not just a few brave pioneers.
Share |
Alan Breakstone 1 February 2003
Please send comments, critiques and queries to feedback@spacefuture.com.
All material copyright Space Future Consulting except as noted.