Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Welcome Home, Discovery

Like many people yesterday, I was a little nervous as the Space Shuttle Discovery made its reentry into Earth's atmosphere. We all remember hearing the news on that dark day in February when Space Shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas killing all seven on board. Yesterday, Discovery and her crew of seven made a safe landing on to a desert runway in California.

Long before Discovery set foot on earth again, there was talk about the future of the shuttle and manned space flight. The fact that a piece of foam came off again after spending millions to prevent what happened to Columbia from happening again is troubling. NASA is grounding the fleet until they can correct the problem.

There is talk again that we don't need to send humans into space. It's too dangerous, the critics say. This argument was rather loud after Columbia and her crew was lost and it was still loud after some of the problems that Discovery faced. The critics believe we can do all the science we need to do by sending unmanned spacecraft like those sent to Mars. At least, we won't have to risk human life, they say.

I for one, want to see the manned program continue. Yes, the unmanned program has had some success, but it has also had some spectacular failures, where explorers were damaged or destroyed at critical moments. We also seem to forget the manned program is not the death trap people tend to think it is. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports, of the 114 missions, 112 have been sucessful. Risky yes, but not a death warrant as some critics suggest.

Humans want to explore. Yes, it can be done with robots, but there is something in the human psyche to acutally be there exploring. Maybe that doesn't line up with the risk-adverse society that we live in, but I think people would rather experience other worlds than having to watch it on a viewscreen.

I remember the first shuttle test flight. It was 1977, and I remember seeing the protoype, Space Shuttle Enterprise, on the back of a 747. Then, it was released and flew on its own before it made a safe landing. I also remember the flight of Columbia four years later as it went into space. Kids get excited about things like this. They don't get excited about robot explorers.

I sometimes think that America has lost the drive it used to have. In the 50s and 60s we made getting to the moon our goal. After the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the US not only worked to get something into space, but also made sure the sciences were taught. I don't think we have that edge anymore. We have retreated inward and it doesn't help that we have an Administration and Political Party that seems anti-science (more on that later).

It was about a year ago, that China started its own manned program. The joy people had as their own astronaut went into space reminded me of what America has lost. Not only it's drive, but it's edge in science.

I hope to see more shuttle launches and landings. And I hope to see us get back to the moon and hopefully Mars.

Welcome home, Discovery. Let's hope you aren't the last manned flight for America.


Post a Comment

<< Home

!-- End .box -->