Challenger, 24 years ago today

By Phil Plait | January 28, 2010 2:06 pm

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded less than two minutes after takeoff. Yesterday too was the anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire.

I wrote about these events three years ago, and my feelings have not changed.

You can also read more about this, with links to others’ thoughts, on Universe Today.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: NASA, Piece of mind
MORE ABOUT: Apollo 1, Challenger

Comments (86)

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  1. Ok, this makes me feel old « Rodibidably | January 28, 2010
  1. khan

    We have fed our sea for a thousand years
    And she calls us, still unfed,
    Though there’s never a wave of all her waves
    But marks our English dead:
    We have strawed our best to the weed’s unrest,
    To the shark and the sheering gull.
    If blood be the price of admiralty,
    Lord God, we ha’ paid in full!

  2. While I’m too young to remember Apollo 1, I clearly remember Challenger (as well as Columbia). A co-worker came into the office and said “did you hear the Space Shuttle blew up?” The rest of us were waiting for the punchline, which of course never came.

  3. I remember both events well. We had just moved to Houston a week or two earlier, I was 11 years old at the time. I was trying to watch…. ‘superchicken’ or ‘my world and welcome to it’ … my parents were arguing in the other room. Walter Chronkite breaks in to report ‘an accident has occurred at Kennedy Space Center… more to follow’, throughout the night the news got worse and worse. I cried myself to sleep.

    For Challenger, I was working for my father in his pharmacy, and had gone home for lunch…. one of my coworkers knocked on the door and told me to turn on the TV. OMFSM! Not again!

    My best friend was working STSOC that day.

  4. Being at Concord, NH, it’s a surreal experience. Folks here all seem to have known Christa McAuliffe personally. I remember being at University as a Freshman, waiting for my next class in the ROTC lounge.

  5. Dr. Plait,

    Just out of curiosity, are there any conspiracy theories that you know of surrounding either of these events?

  6. I will never forget seeing those pictures of a snow-covered branch with dangling icicles, and then learning that I was actually seeing the exhaust trail from Challenger. What a way to spend the day before my eighteenth birthday.

  7. Larry

    The only conspiracy I’ve heard of is Morton-Thiokol managers suppressing the concerns of their engineers regarding the O-rings and launching in sub-freezing weather in order to maintain schedule and not be responsible for any additional delays.

    Only problem with that one is that its true.

  8. Seamyst

    I was way too young to remember Challenger (not quite 2 at the time)… my younger sister was conceived a night or two before the explosion, though. Mom and Dad said they didn’t have the heart to keep trying to conceive, but as it turns out they didn’t need to.

  9. andy

    The tragic thing is that by the time of Challenger, it should have been clear that the manned space program was pointless. America had done its bit of Cold War theatrics by landing men on the Moon, and didn’t seem interested in spending the money on travelling back to the big grey dustball in the sky. Since the Mariner 4 flyby of Mars in 1965 it had been clear that none of the major planets of the solar system, aside from the Earth, would be hospitable to human life (Mariner 2 had dashed the last hopes of a tolerable environment on Venus in 1962). In short, it was abundantly clear that in space, there is nowhere for humans to go. The question is, how many more shuttle crews will it take before we realise this?

  10. I was 6 when the Challenger blew up. We didn’t have a TV, but I “got” to watch it because my dad was having surgery and we were staying with an aunt. I will never forget that day. Sucked to share the same first name with the teacher on board… and now so many years later I am a teacher myself.
    I was in college when the Columbia blew up and just remember feeling so sad sitting in my apartment by myself reading all the news online.

  11. stan9fos

    We will never stop. You can stay here on Planet Dirt.

  12. Joe Bogus

    Q: What do Christa McAuliffe and Donna Rice have in common?

    A: They both went down on the Challenger.

  13. T.E.L.

    stan9fos Said:

    “We will never stop. You can stay here on Planet Dirt.”

    You know that T-shirt of the Galaxy with two arrows, one saying “You are here”, and the other, pointing to some other remote spot, saying “All the good stuff is here”? The only thing mistaken about it is that not all of the good stuff is way over yonder. There’s also good stuff here. Every planet is Planet Dirt. The reason for space exploration isn’t because anything & everything is better than being here. The reason is because so-called space exploration is just continuing exploration of more of the same place we’ve always been living in and exploring: the Universe.

  14. vince

    andy (#10):

    Pointless? There’s also spreading aerospace jobs around multiple Congressional districts. And I think a few scientists were still holding on to the prospect that Shuttle rides for their experiments would be cheaper than rides on expendable rockets.

  15. T.E.L.

    Joe Bogus Said:

    “Q: What do Christa McAuliffe and Donna Rice have in common?

    A: They both went down on the Challenger.”

    Has it been at least 22.3 years? Let’s check… Yes, it has been. This joke is approved.

  16. Zucchi

    andy said:
    “In short, it was abundantly clear that in space, there is nowhere for humans to go.”

    In space, there is *everywhere* for humans to go.

    I’m always curious when I read the sentiment that human space exploration is pointless. What kind of future do you see? Do you imagine us continuing to have a civilization, but not stepping foot off the planet again, a thousand years from now? Ten thousand?

  17. John Paradox

    I remember that day, I arrived at work feeling better and happier than typical. Then I heard the news………

    Switched 180 degrees…

    J/P=?

  18. T.E.L.

    Zucchi Said:

    “In space, there is *everywhere* for humans to go.”

    This is only assuming it’s feasible for humans to go everywhere. Is it?

    “Do you imagine us continuing to have a civilization, but not stepping foot off the planet again, a thousand years from now? Ten thousand?”

    You need to be careful when using this kind of reasoning. Humanity has already spent a lot longer than that not leaving Earth, and they’ve been as happy that way as they’re likely to be somewhere else.

  19. Beaver

    Is Osama Bin Laden behind all of this? Well maybe Saddam Hussein? Challenger and Columbia both have Jews on board.

  20. I remember watching Challenger explode on TV. I was home sick from school that day. A tragic day for America and for science.

    @10 andy

    “how many more shuttle crews will it take before we realise this”

    As many as it takes until such time as the question is moot because we’ve already colonized the solar system despite short-sighted people like you who would imprison all of humanity on this dying ball of rock.

  21. John

    NASA’s official word on massive after launch failures is that they’re about a 1 in 100 probability, and they seemed to have happened consistently at that rate for some time.

    For humans to go anywhere realistically requires that we bring that number in line with conventional transport, which has a per mission failure of circa 1/1000000

  22. T.E.L.

    Rooker Said:

    “As many as it takes until such time as the question is moot because we’ve already colonized the solar system despite short-sighted people like you who would imprison all of humanity on this dying ball of rock.”

    Do you really expect things to be different somewhere else? Every ball of rock is dying.

    But there’s more than shortsightedness keeping us on this particular one. There’s also the laws of physics, which tend to make hurling a projectile away from this rock rather pricey.

  23. John

    Colonising another rock in this system would take more resources than this rock is capable of providing.

    It would be like trying to control someones brain by headbutting them repeatedly.

  24. “There’s also the laws of physics, which tend to make hurling a projectile away from this rock rather pricey.”

    That’s the point.

    Once you’re out of Earth’s gravity well, the energy you need to use to go anywhere is miniscule. That’s why people always say a base on the moon is necessary if we’re to build one on Mars. The energy needed to leave the moon is far less than what we need to leave Florida.

    Some of the asteroids out there have more raw metals than everything we’ve dug up from Earth in our whole history. The energy of one stick of dynamite is about all you’d need to shove one of them into one of Earth’s LaGrange points and we’d never need to build another strip mine here.

    We are currently 7 billion people competing for the resources of a planet that can barely sustain half that. That competition already leads to war. What’s it going to be like when the population doubles again in 20-30 years?

    There are resources inside the orbit of Jupiter to support a population of hundreds of billions. And yet, here we sit, poking around just barely above the atmosphere of this one planet.

  25. Rob

    I was in my grade eight English class, when the vice principle came in, and just as he was about to leave, sort of absent-mindedly said “Oh, by the way, the space shuttle blew up.” and left. Talk about a long wait until I could get home and turn on the tv to see what the hell happened. As a 13 year old kid, it was mind blowing that something so amazing as the shuttle could be destroyed.

  26. Astroquoter

    “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
    – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Mercury astronaut killed in the ‘Apollo 1’ fire.

  27. I was wondering when our anti manned space flight crank would show up (we all know who he is). And crank is too kind a word…

  28. T.E.L.

    Rooker,

    The costs of rising from other planets’ wells is irrelevant. We’re on Earth, and must get out of Earth’s well. If you want to suggest starting a rocket industry on, for example, the Moon, how does that help move a few billion people off Earth? And when you get those billions delivered to Mars, what’ll happen to them when their population doubles in a few years? Is it even feasible to move people from Earth to another planet faster than they make more new people on Earth? The solution to the population bomb definitely has nothing to do with interplanetary migration, and everything to do with learning how to manage ourselves right here.

    And I don’t even want to hear about how rich the asteroids are in materials. There are more of those same materials here on Earth than in probably all of the asteroids put together, and you don’t need to spend any energy lowering them safely into this planet’s gravity well. That’s right: it costs energy to bring stuff down. And when you consider that practically ALL of the materials which have been mined on Earth are still ON Earth, well, that makes it less sensible than ever to go looking on asteroids. We have mountainous landfills stuffed to the gills with usable materials.

    And- one stick of dynamite? Surely you jest. You haven’t even done the calculation.

  29. T.E.L.

    Astroquoter Said:

    ““The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
    – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Mercury astronaut killed in the ‘Apollo 1’ fire.”

    It’s only worth the risk if the potential payoff is bigger than the risk. That’s why, when gambling at Vegas, it’s smart to set yourself an exact limit to how many quarters you can afford to lose in the slots and stick to it. So what is the payoff for having warm bodies in space? Exactly how many [other people’s] lives are you willing to lose along the way? How well-defined are your quit-criteria? It’s easy to sentimentally quote Gus Grissom. It’s a lot harder to really show that it can yield the jackpot. To do this you must stop quoting someone else and start doing the work yourself.

  30. Rift

    And tomorrow is the anniversary of Kansas joining the union whose motto is ‘Ad Astra per Asperia”. To the Stars through Difficulties. (or variations thereof)

    Although Kansas chose that motto because of Bleeding Kansas and the fact we fought the civil war 10 years before everyone else, and it was only through difficulty we became a ‘star’ on the US flag, the timing of the cluster of space accidents (Apollo 1, Challenger, Columbia) with Kansas Day nestled in between them is eerie to me. Yes, just a coincidence, but still creepy.

    And yes NASA has the same motto, it was inspired by Kansas’ motto. And I like to think with all the cranks Kansas is dealing with- anti-abortion killers, Fred Phelps, Discovery Institute’s continued attack on our BOE (and yet it is still crammed with pro-science members since their second and last monumental FAIL), and that we’ve so far not fallen to any of them that we are still getting to the stars through difficulties. Phil, can we have a Kansas ‘NOT’ Doomed logo?

  31. @30 – I agree with that, but the quote came from a man who was doing the work. We can’t all work in that field but we can support it. If I could choose where I my tax dollars went the vast majority would go to R&D and space exploration.

    I watched these events unfold on TV while home from school. A haunting memory.

  32. Dale

    This was the first launch of the shuttle I didn’t work in four years as a Range Control Officer at the Eastern Test Range. I can remember my eyes seeing the disaster but my brain saying it was just a non-nominal launch profile. My brain just could not accept what I was seeing. Can’t believe it was 24 years ago.

  33. Messier Tidy Upper

    What about all the successful missions – lets not forget those either!

    The human mind works in funny ways in that we most strongly recall the worst disasters here but so easily forget all the hundreds of other marvellously successful “ordinary” or “routine” extraordinary & sadly very far from being routine missons.

    The Space shuttle has flown more people into orbit than any other spacecraft. It launched the Hubbble Space Telescope, the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Magellan spaceprobe to Venus, has enabled the world to build the International Space Station and so very much more. It is one of – if not the single – most intricate, complex, ingenious and remarkable of all the things Humanity has ever designed, engineered & constructed.

    Yet when the shuttle is mentioned all too often it is associated with the two catastrophic failures out the many hundreds of successful flights.

    Space travel is dangerous – but it is also very much worth it.

    Exploring is part of our nature, part of what makes us successful and something that immeasurably enriches our lives.

    In this age exploration now has been made incredibly, almost absurdly, safe compared with the far more ardous, far more risky , far less pleasant and successful explorations achieved in our past.

    For example, Ferdinand Magellan is often said to be the first explorer to sail around the world but we forget that he, himself, didn’t make it. He was killed half way into the journey & of Magellan’s 237 men who set out on five ships in 1519, only 18 completed the circumnavigation of the globe and managed to return to Spain in 1522 in one battered half-wrecked surviving ship. Nor was such a toll unusual or considered disastrous back then. The second man to do so, Sir Francis Drake, set out with six ships and over 170 men – and only Drake’s vessel the Golden Hind and sixty men made it home alive.

    Today, we are far more risk-averse, far safer and far more cautious. We live longer but – mostly – less bravely & arguably less richly. And we still die at the end as we always must from something or other.

    You don’t get to choose how you die but – as a certain poster name ddavid drearily commented on another thread – we all inevitably will. If I could choose how I go then I’d choose to go out dramatically doing something I loved and helping create a better world in the process. The astronauts and cosmonauts that have perished got such a “good death.”

    The astronauts knew the risks and died doing what they loved. I believe they would have wanted us to keep going and to honour their memories and wishes by fighting for the continuing voyages of discovery and exploration that they believed in so much.

  34. T.E.L.

    Lewis,

    The quote by Grissom was all sentiment and no math. He was an astronaut, and the astronauts are the least essential element of the Warm Bodies in Space program. Space travel is rocket science, and that’s done mostly by people who stay on the ground and do the math.

  35. T.E.L.

    Messier,

    The Space Shuttle did NOT make it possible to build a space station. The USSR built and staffed many space stations without the Shuttle. The United States put up Skylab without the Shuttle. And the prestige of the various payloads of the Shuttle is irrelevant: those same spacecraft could ALL have been launched with throwaway rockets. The Shuttle has taken lots of people to low orbit, and not a single one to escape velocity. If you want people walking on other planets, then singing the lofty praises of the Space Shuttle isn’t the way to do it. It’s a money pit, and it was obviously so close to thirty years ago.

  36. Astroquoter

    @ 30. T.E.L. Says:

    Astroquoter Said: “The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.”
    – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Mercury astronaut killed in the ‘Apollo 1’ fire.”

    It’s only worth the risk if the potential payoff is bigger than the risk. That’s why, when gambling at Vegas, it’s smart to set yourself an exact limit to how many quarters you can afford to lose in the slots and stick to it. So what is the payoff for having warm bodies in space? Exactly how many [other people’s] lives are you willing to lose along the way?

    Its not *my* decision – but it is a decision that people like Gus Grissom (& his fellow astronauts, cosmonauts and others) make for themselves & I admire their choice and think it both couragous and worthwhile.

    Do you not respect that decision and them, T.E.L.?

    As for the pay-off, that too is for the people risking their lives to assess for themselves but the pursuit of knowledge and adventure, the opportunity “to boldly go where no one has gone before” (Gene Roddenberry, the ‘Star Trek’ series motto) , the chance to do something remarkable because it is there to be done is what motivates, I think, many of them.

    The pay off in technological advances, in increased knowledge and understanding, in many other ways, some we don’t fully even know yet is hard to assess but no less real for that.

    How well-defined are your quit-criteria? It’s easy to sentimentally quote Gus Grissom. It’s a lot harder to really show that it can yield the jackpot. To do this you must stop quoting someone else and start doing the work yourself.

    If I got the opportunity and had the ability then I might & yes I would be willing tomeet thesame end if need be. If someone offered me a flight to Mars or the Moon I would jump at the chance even if it was a one way trip.

    That would *my* choice made because of how I value & see things. While I’d want to be safe and want to get there alive, I’d be willing to risk a lot and wouldn’t quit without durn good reason. If I die, hey I die – doing something I love in a cause I believe in and hopefully enabling others to learn and avoid whatever mistakes or problems caused my demise.

    As for asking others to do so – well I’m not in a position to do so but if I was I would gladly ask for volunteers – *ask* not *compel* – & I’d fully expect to get more than I could handle of them! ;-)

    You, of course, are free to make your own choices and see things your way and disagree with my choices and perspective if you so desire.

    Grissom is one of my heroes -along with the other astronauts & along with others who show courage and imagination and daring and passion and so forth. Who are your heroes and what qualities do they display T.E.L.? Do they too have such qualities and desires?

    ****

    Lennier: “Delenn, all we know is that we will die. It is only a matter of how, when, and whether or not it is with honor.”
    “Grey 17 is Missing” episode, Babylon 5 TV show.

    “This [space] is the new ocean and I believe the United States must sail on it and be in a position second to none.”
    – President John F. Kennedy after John Glenn’s first orbits in ‘Friendship-7’ on Feb. 20th 1962.

    ‘Night hides the world but reveals a universe.’
    – Russian proverb.

  37. T.E.L.

    Astroquoter Said:

    “Its not my decision -but it is a decison that people like Gus Grissom (& his fellow astronauts, cosmonauts and others) make for themselves & a chocie Iadmire and think bothcouragous and worthwhile.

    Do you not respect that and them T.E.L.?”

    Astronauts choose to pursue their careers. I can respect that in principle. But until astronauts start spending their own money instead of the Taxpayers’, they aren’t entitled to fly in space. It’s not their private affair. The United States is a voting republic, not an astrocracy.

    “The pay off in technological advances, in increased knowledge and understanding, in many other ways some we don’;t fully even know yet is hard to assess but no less real for that.”

    It’s a myth that space travel has single-handedly delivered Civilization out of the Stone Age. Do you seriously think you wouldn’t have a personal computer without the Space Program? There’s a market here on Earth for technology. Therefore technology gets developed here on Earth. It’s been a VERY LONG TIME since the Space Program propelled even its own native technologies. Nowadays NASA buys as much off-the-shelf technology as it can just to keep costs down. And I need to point out something else: that the Space Program didn’t start out from scratch. Back in the 1950s it started to appear feasible to have a space program precisely because there were enough technologies emerging independently to make it so.

    “If I got the opportunity and had the ability I might. If someone offered me aflight toMars or the Moon I would jump at thecahnce even if it was aoneway tip. That would my choice made because of how I value & see things.”

    I’d like to go, too. But that’s beside the point.

    “Grissom is one of my heroes -along with the other astronauts & along with others who show courage and imagination and daring and passion and so forth. Who are your heroes and what qualities do they display T.E.L.? Do they too have such qualities and desires?”

    My heroes are the kind of people who’ve taught me to know when to stop looking to them for wisdom, and to start coming up with my own. Take my Dad for example. I respect what he taught me far too well for me to believe everything he ever said to me as Gospel. I have a young daughter, and if I’m successful she won’t overestimate me, her father. Heroes are for guidance, not worship.

  38. Jim Cruff

    We will never forget them,
    nor the last time we saw them,
    this morning,
    as they prepared for the journey
    and waved goodbye
    and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’
    to ‘touch the face of God.’

    I’m not a Reagan fan, nor a “believer”, but this is beautiful

  39. StevoR

    As an eight year old boy I stayed up far beyond my bedtime one night watching and waiting for the historic launch of the first space shuttle Columbia. After several hours of commentary and discussion, watching images of the sleek white spaceplane with its vast external fuel tank, and booster rockets awaiting blast-off, the viewers at home were finally informed that the launch had been aborted. It was some technical problem or other – a computer glitch. Thus I missed the maiden flight of the revolutionary new type of recyclable rocket, the first spaceplane, designed to be flown time and time again, instead of the one-off rockets like the Saturn V.

    Over twenty years later, and I was watching TV when I heard on a newsbreak something about the space shuttle breaking up on re-entry with all seven astronauts dead. The news that night was filled with the loss of the Columbia STS-107 mission and its crew including one of the most beautiful women to have flown in space, Indian-born Kalpana Chawla and the first ever Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, all killed as the craft disintegrated in a fireball through Texan skies.

    The STS-107 astronauts had been sixteen days in space and were but sixteen minutes from home when they perished. In the days following the Columbia‘s destruction, the astronauts – two women and five men, five Americans, an Indian and an Israeli obtained the headline news they could never have dreamed of had their mission been successful.

    We learnt far more about them in grief than we would have done in elation. We learnt the last song they heard was `Scotland the Brave’, the selection of mission specialist Laurel Clark. That the first Israeli in space Ilan Ramon was carrying a drawing by a Holocaust survivor which survived the Nazi death camps only to perish along with the astronaut above, among other places, the US town called Palestine. We learnt that the photogenic Indian mission specialist Kalpana Chawla, timed her meal breaks so she could see the sunrises from space, the earth moving from darkness to light below her. That another mission specialist David Brown had spent some years as a circus acrobat, stilt walker and unicyclist. And that the last words we received were “Roger buh ..” spoken by the Commander Rick Husband.

    Over those intervening years much had changed. Columbia not only lifted off on that maiden voyage at last, it had, along with the others in NASA’s shuttle fleet, made many triumphant flights since; contributing to science, inspiring many individuals and, most tangibly, launching many spaceprobes and satellites.

    Some of the memories have been good, such as the like the night I stood rapt listening to the radio
    announcement while stargazing at an astronomy society camp while Australia’s hero and first official astronaut Andy Thomas took flight launched aboard an American shuttle, the Endeavour, bound for the Russian Mir space station. Or the much heralded return to space of America’s pioneering hero, John Glenn, showing that even seventy year olds can achieve previously unthinkable feats. We’ve seen the launch and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope bringing us breathtaking images of incalculable scientific and artistic worth. We now know for a fact that other planets circle other suns and they are stranger than we expected. We have learnt about dark matter and gamma-ray bursters among other things; coming ever closer to understanding our planet, our universe and ourselves.

    Other memories are not so good, like those of another dark day, in 1986, when another sombre Presidential special address informed us of the spectacular calamity that befell the lost Shuttle Challenger. Reagun talked and my family and I and so many others world wide all sat stunned that seven lives and such an awe-inspiring craft had gone up in the fireball that day -twenty four years ago today. And, like the shuttle, another leading edge wonder of its day, the Concorde has come down in flames and what seemed like an aircraft for the future has become a technological has-been, a curio of where we could have been but didn’t go.

    Change is the only constant. The strongest efforts of those mean-minded and unimaginative people who try to hold the status quo forever are doomed. Change is unavoidable – but we *do* have a say in the *direction* of such change, whether whatever change comes improves our world or worsens it.

    We have a choice in making the world better and advancing into space in new space-planes and rocket-craft or spending the same money on lesser, less hopeful and memorable priorities. We have an endless variety of choices about our collective and individual futures. Perhaps most importantly for future generations, we now have to decide whether the sooon coming end of the shuttle era marks the final termination of our faltering steps into the greater cosmos or, merely, the end of the beginning.

    We should support the space program – probably the most splendid and most significant thing the United Sates and Western world has ever got going.

    Failing to improve on the shuttle fleet means far more than just losing the dreams I had while watching the Columbia readying for its first flight. It means giving up on positively directing changes that help our understanding and improve the world and thus falling into the path of stagnation and decline that leads to nightmares. We should hope that Humanity takes the road to the stars and we should support the development of replacement for the shuttle far more advanced and bolder in aspirations because we should seek to improve our world not lessen it.

    Our children should sit glued to the screen as I once was for the now lost Columbia the now lost Challenger, and all the other shuttle missions, watching not mere shuttle flights but Mars landings and much more.

    Vale Challenger, Vale Columbia. May you not have gone in vain.

    ****************************************************************

    NB. If it helps at all, anyone who so desires can feel free to forward, edit, re-post and generally use this to help encourage & lobby for human spaceflight.

    Source : Steven C. Raine (“StevoR”) excerpt from ‘Vale Columbia – personal reflections five years on.’

  40. T.E.L.

    StevoR Said:

    “Or the much heralded return to space of America’s pioneering hero, John Glenn, showing that even seventy year olds can achieve previously unthinkable feats.”

    Feat? What feat? He rode a rocket to orbit. The rocket did all the work, literally.

  41. Astroquoter

    @ 38. T.E.L. Says:

    Astronauts choose to pursue their careers. I can respect that in principle. But until astronauts start spending their own money instead of the Taxpayers’, they aren’t entitled to fly in space. It’s not their private affair. The United States is a voting republic, not an astrocracy.

    The USA is a society, a community, a group of people working together in their common interest with representatives and leaders and people. The people want space exploration and the leaders are enlightened enough to give them the opportunity.

    Astronauts aren’t “entitled” to go into space? WTF?! Really? :roll:

    They trained, they volunteered, they are risking their lives and they are doing so on our account for our sakes – for the people by the people and themselves people. Oh & they pay tax as well T.E.L. you know!

    By your logic Columbus wouldn’t have been “entitled” to explore & discover America until he’d personally single-handed built his own boat. I’m sure glad that you weren’t in charge of anything important to history, T.E.L.. :roll:

    It’s a myth that space travel has single-handedly delivered Civilization out of the Stone Age.

    Setting up a straw man there, eh T.E.L.? I’ve never argued that & never would. Space travel & exploration is part of our whole jounery combined with a lot of other things – one aspect -but a very important one too.

    Just remember – without exploration nobody would get anywhere! ;-)
    (Or know of anything beyond their immediate surrounds.)

    Do you seriously think you wouldn’t have a personal computer without the Space Program?

    Do *you* seriously believe computers would be as good as they are today, as fast as they are today without the space program? I wouldn’t. No, its not just the space program but that has helped and contributed and you’d be churlish and wrong to deny that.

    There’s a market here on Earth for technology. Therefore technology gets developed here on Earth.

    There’s the need for certain technologies in space – it may get built and designed on Earth but if its used in space for the purpose of space travel then the space program *is* helping -and you are being ungrateful and rude in denigrating it. :-(

    Nowadays NASA buys as much off-the-shelf technology as it can just to keep costs down. And I need to point out something else: that the Space Program didn’t start out from scratch. Back in the 1950s it started to appear feasible to have a space program precisely because there were enough technologies emerging independently to make it so.

    Er, no you didn’t need to point that out & so what? Different emerging technologies working together for the purpose of getting people into space and onto the Moon means the space program was one reason, one motivating factor, one area that helped all these various technologies. Not sure what your problem with that is.

    “If I got the opportunity and had the ability I might. If someone offered me a flight to Mars or the Moon I would jump at the chance even if it was a one way trip. That would my choice made because of how I value & see things.”

    I’d like to go, too. But that’s beside the point.

    No, it’s *exactly* the point. You’d like to go as well so why are you saying its such a bad idea?

    My heroes are the kind of people who’ve taught me to know when to stop looking to them for wisdom, and to start coming up with my own. Take my Dad for example. I respect what he taught me far too well for me to believe everything he ever said to me as Gospel. I have a young daughter, and if I’m successful she won’t overestimate me, her father. Heroes are for guidance, not worship.

    Fair enough – but heroes are also those who set a positive example to follow.

    I don’t “worship” Grissom or any of my other heroes but I do hold them in very high esteem and admiration and I seek to emulate them where I can. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I am quite aware that all such heroes are fallible humans and that all individuals have their faults and flaws but some people are more “heroic”for want of a better word than others.

    Have you read Carl Sagan’s book ‘Pale Blue Dot’ T.E.L.? If not, I really recomend you do. Sagan makes a very convincing case for space exploration & colonisation and, yes, he’s one of my heroes too. But don’t let that stop you from reading and learning and judging for yourself. Not that it ever would.

    @41. TEL again:

    Feat? What feat? He [John Glenn @ 70 yrs old.] rode a rocket to orbit. The rocket did all the work, literally.

    You really don’t get it? Really, T.E.L.? :-(

    The man was seventy years old for pity’s sake and here he was climbing onto a rocket again, getting hammered down by High Gee, risking his life once again to learn and push the envelope of the possible. Nobody else has ever done it before or since at that age and that makes it an amazing feat -in fact anyone flying into space is achieving and risking something and many of them (Glenn included on his first flight) – y’know pilot their craft themselves.

    You know what, I really pity you, T.E.L. for your lack of understanding, poetry and imagination, I really do. You don’t know what your missing but I think most of the rest of us here do.

  42. Pi-needles

    @ 20. Beaver Says:

    Is Osama Bin Laden behind all of this? Well maybe Saddam Hussein? Challenger and Columbia both have Jews on board.

    “Have?” Not anymore. :roll:

    WTF? Please tell me you are being ironic or something here. Was that meant to be a funny reply to the CT theory question @ (6.) Todd W. ?

    Besides while Ramon on the Columbia was an Israeli, I’m not sure who aboard the Challenger was Jewish. Or why that should matter in any way whatsoever.

    @ 36. T.E.L. Says:

    The Space Shuttle did NOT make it possible to build a space station.

    Possible no, easier yes. ;-)

    The USSR built and staffed many space stations without the Shuttle.

    Actually, the shuttle did help out with at least transporting a few astronauts to & from Mir.

    those same spacecraft could ALL have been launched with throwaway rockets.

    “Could have been” perhaps – but – weren’t.
    Credit where credits due. You can’t deny the shuttle has occassionally come in handy. ;-)

    The Shuttle has taken lots of people to low orbit, and not a single one to escape velocity.

    Escape velocity – you mean out from Earth orbit? Only *one* manned spacecraft has ever achieved that – the Apollo so it is hardly alone there.

    If you want people walking on other planets, then singing the lofty praises of the Space Shuttle isn’t the way to do it. It’s a money pit, and it was obviously so close to thirty years ago.

    Perhaps. I think the resusable spaceplane idea was a good one but the design flaws and “comitteee” & having to be “all-things-to-diff-ppl” problems got in the way of the shuttle specifically as designed delivering. Pity. The Shuttle never lived up to expectations and failed to really ignite ppls minds or be what it was originally intended to be but I do think you are being a bit too harsh on it.

  43. 6. Todd W. Says: “Just out of curiosity, are there any conspiracy theories that you know of surrounding either of these events?”

    The only one that I know of is that the Apollo 1 crew was killed off by the “government” because they were about to blow the whistle on the whole Apollo program hoax.

    – Jack

  44. Pieter Kok

    I love the Space Shuttle as a piece of engineering, and I am not immune to the romantic prospect of human space travel either. That said, the only practical redeeming feature of the Space Shuttle is that it is the sole vehicle that can service the HST. As a test-bed for human space exploration it is completely inadequate.

    T.E.L. is right: no matter how cool space travel is portrayed in SciFi, the practical cost does not seem to outweigh the benefits. T.E.L. has provided the most cogent arguments in this thread, so to put him down as a crank (I assume you were referring to him, Larian?) is dishonest at best.

  45. MadScientist

    Except for the relatively low temperatures on the ground, the weather was beautiful and it should have been possible to watch the vehicle for quite some time. Not too long into the flight I thought “that doesn’t look good”. It was a bad year or two for the US space program in general; explosions at a propellant manufacturing/storage facility (leaving an impressive crater easily visible from space) and a number of catastrophic launch failures which severely damaged a significant number of launch pads. There have been other years with strings of bad news (causing substantial launch delays and huge sums of money), but generally not as high profile. Despite all the care taken (and the space industry is at least on par with aviation for being thorough) space is a dangerous business.

    @andy: I don’t think the Shuttle program was as pointless as you might think it was. There were numerous serious science experiments conducted which would have cost a great deal more if the instruments were developed for individual satellite missions. For example, two of the better known missions included the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and the Atmos program. SRTM had a great advantage over many contemporary SAR instruments out there – it was in a much lower orbit. If Atmos were put on a satellite platform you’d get perhaps 6 months service from it, not to mention you’d have to multiply the budget perhaps by a factor of 20 just to get the instrument ready for flight – and that doesn’t include the cost of the platform, platform integration, and the ground control segment. Preparing instruments for flight on the shuttle is considerably less work and there are so many things you could do which are simply not possible without a crew (well, not without a great deal more money at any rate).

  46. Apollo 1: 1/27
    Challenger: 1/28
    Columbia: 2/1

    What goes wrong at NASA at the end of January?

  47. DrFlimmer

    I was not yet born (3 weeks later…) when Challenger perished. I watched a documentary yesterday about it, “in memoriam”, like I do every year, now. Always a sad watch.
    Spaceflightnow.com has an interesting time line, that states explicitly what happened in which millisecond.

    The Columbia tragedy (February 1st is not far away…) came first to my ears via radio. I remember making a really terrible joke about it.

    Sad days around us….

  48. Dan I.

    Wow really, I totally missed the date. But I do have a good space story, and I suppose this is as good a place as any to tell it.

    My grandfather passed away last Sunday and at his funeral people were telling stories.

    My dad gets up and tells this story about how grandpa used to deliver bread from his bakery to the Grumman facility in Bethpage, NY. He used to take my dad with him sometimes and the Grumman people would show him around tell him what they were working on etc.

    So this one day in 1968 grandpa brings dad. And one of the workers is there in a clean suit and tells my dad “We want to show you something.” He brings out two more clean suits for my dad and grandpa and takes them into a little side viewing room near a clean room.

    He points through the glass and dad said “At the time I’m looking down at this weird spider looking thing.” And the guy goes “That’s going to land on the Moon.” My grandpa figures this is a mock-up or a test and says “Wow so something like that is going to the moon.”

    And the guy goes “No, THAT one is the actual lander for the landing mission.” Dad actually got to see the Apollo 11 lander just before they sent it out to Florida.

  49. @Maurizio Morabito

    Apollo 1: 1/27
    Challenger: 1/28
    Columbia: 2/1

    What goes wrong at NASA at the end of January?

    Winter?

  50. I hate to keep pointing this out, but it did NOT explode. It disintegrated because of extreme aerodynamic forces…

  51. T.E.L.

    Astroquoter Says:

    ”The people want space exploration and the leaders are enlightened enough to give them the opportunity.”

    I want space exploration too. What makes you think I don’t?

    ”Astronauts aren’t “entitled” to go into space? WTF?! Really? :roll:

    They trained, they volunteered, they are risking their lives and they are doing so on our account for our sakes – for the people by the people and themselves people. Oh & they pay tax as well T.E.L. you know!

    By your logic Columbus wouldn’t have been “entitled” to explore & discover America until he’d personally single-handed built his own boat. I’m sure glad that you weren’t in charge of anything important to history, T.E.L.”

    As it turns out, Columbus wasn’t entitled to to discover America. Do you recall the story of how he got the money? He petitiioned the government of Spain, because he sure as hell didn’t have the cash. And even when he convinced the Queen that it was worth the risk, even she wasn’t entitled to hand over public money without a really good reason. So she footed the bill for the expedition out of her own pocket.

    And keep in mind that Columbus could only rationalize his strategy [for reaching Asia] by citing some absurdly low diameter for the Earth. Since no one in Europe knew ahead of time that the Americas existed, using an accurate estimate for the Earth would’ve been equivalent to mounting a suicide mission. He could only justify the whole trip by lying to himself. He was just damn’ lucky there happened to be a whole continent in the way.

    So, no, astronauts aren’t entitled to ride rockets, even though they pay taxes. Air Force pilots pay taxes, but they aren’t entitled to fly jets. Army generals pay taxes, yet they aren’t entitled to wage war. You are confusing entitlement in this instance with responsibility. Astronauts are employees, hired to do a job; and they are responsible for that job. Just ask any real astronaut if it’s entitled to ride rockets. The answer will be a crisp No.

    ”Setting up a straw man there, eh T.E.L.? I’ve never argued that & never would.”

    You’re the one who mentioned advancements in technology [via the Space Program].

    ”Just remember – without exploration nobody would get anywhere! ;-)
    (Or know of anything beyond their immediate surrounds.)”

    Sure. So what makes you think I’m against exploration? I think I’m more in favor of exploration than you are. You seem to be fixated on warm bodies in space. That’s not space exploration.

    ”Do *you* seriously believe computers would be as good as they are today, as fast as they are today without the space program?”

    Yes, I surely do. The modern computer has been on its way for a very long time. People have always needed better computers, and so better computers have a market, which drives progress. Babbage designed his engine way back in the 19th Century. Turing & von Neumann laid down the logical basis for digital computers back in the ‘30s. Von Neumann built a completely programmable digital computer in the ‘40s. The Transistor was discovered in the late ‘40s. It was all humming along before the Space Program. The Space Program didn’t make the difference between how computers are and how they might have been. The Space Program exploited the state of the art in computers back in the ‘60s.

    In fact, do you know that the Space Shuttle actually uses obsolete computers for its core operations? That’s right: some of the electronic hardware aboard the Shuttle is so out of date that NASA had to shop eBay to keep itself in spare parts. So much for the Space Program driving progress in computers.

    ”There’s the need for certain technologies in space – it may get built and designed on Earth but if its used in space for the purpose of space travel then the space program *is* helping -and you are being ungrateful and rude in denigrating it.”

    Ungrateful? Rude? Is that what you call an argument? You’re reducing the issue to whether or not I practice polite manners. But this isn’t about me and my barnyard ethos. It’s about the economic realities of space travel.

    ”You’d like to go as well so why are you saying its such a bad idea?”

    Where did I say it’s a bad idea, so to speak? I’m not against any of this as a matter of principle. I’m talking about economics.

    ”Have you read Carl Sagan’s book ‘Pale Blue Dot’ T.E.L.? If not, I really recomend you do. Sagan makes a very convincing case for space exploration & colonisation and, yes, he’s one of my heroes too. But don’t let that stop you from reading and learning and judging for yourself. Not that it ever would.”

    I’m 50 years old. It’s my guess that was reading Sagan before you were born. I’ve also stopped re-reading him. You see, I took his advice, and learned enough to be able to do the math and figure this stuff out on my own. I no longer need Carl Sagan to do my thinking for me. In my estimation, that’s how he’d want it.

    ”You really don’t get it? Really, T.E.L.?”

    Oh, yes I do.

    ”The man was seventy years old for pity’s sake and here he was climbing onto a rocket again, getting hammered down by High Gee, risking his life once again to learn and push the envelope of the possible. Nobody else has ever done it before or since at that age and that makes it an amazing feat -in fact anyone flying into space is achieving and risking something and many of them (Glenn included on his first flight) – y’know pilot their craft themselves.”

    For your information, Glenn was closer to eighty when he rode the Shuttle. He was also in excellent health. If not, then he wouldn’t have been aboard. He wasn’t talking more risk than any of the other crew. And he wasn’t hammered by high acceleration. The Shuttle only gets up to about 3g, which my feeble, old granny could take with her pacemaker turned up a notch. The STS was designed that way specifically to accommodate a broader spectrum of tolerance. (Incidentally, are you aware that this fact actually makes it more expensive to operate the STS than if the crew were prepared to handle higher accelerations?)

    In short, Glenn wasn’t pushing any envelopes when he rode the Shuttle. There are precisely two reasons why he got to ride:
    [1]- He was a Senator
    [2]- He was “John Glenn”

    ”You know what, I really pity you, T.E.L. for your lack of understanding, poetry and imagination, I really do. You don’t know what your missing but I think most of the rest of us here do.”

    Nonsense. I’m not missing out on anything. To the contrary, I’m living in an age when more exploration is happening than at any other time in history.

    At any rate, your opinion of me is your private concern. But what does that have to do with the inflexible realities of space travel? Why bring iit up? Is that all this is about for you? I’ve been talking about prioritizing finite public resources. You want to talk about being grateful? Here’s grateful for you: I’m grateful to have lived through the entire history of space exploration. In my lifetime the Planets have been visited for the first time ever. The exploration has been going on for DECADES. The difference between you and me is that if leaving out the bootprints makes it affordable, then I’m all for it.

  52. T.E.L.

    Pi-needles Said:

    ”Possible no, easier yes.”

    I very much doubt that. The one thing it did was make the job more fun for the crew. The Soviet program had no big problem building space stations without the equivalent of the Space Shuttle.

    ”Actually, the shuttle did help out with at least transporting a few astronauts to & from Mir.”

    That’s entirely beside the point. If the Space Shuttle had never existed the Soviet space stations would’ve worked just as well.

    ”“Could have been” perhaps – but – weren’t.
    Credit where credits due. You can’t deny the shuttle has occassionally come in handy.”

    It’s a gratuitous credit. But if credit is what you want, then credit you can have. The Shuttle gets credit for making it cost more to launch those craft than if they’d been put up with other rockets. Let’s also not forget how reliance on the Shuttle put major brakes on putting up a number of payloads after the Challenger accident, making them cost even more in the long run.

    ”Escape velocity – you mean out from Earth orbit? Only *one* manned spacecraft has ever achieved that – the Apollo so it is hardly alone there.”

    So? My point is that if you want people walking on other planets, then the STS is utterly useless. An elevator in the Sears Tower that only took people up one floor would be a major waste if where you want to be is at the top.

    ”The Shuttle never lived up to expectations and failed to really ignite ppls minds or be what it was originally intended to be but I do think you are being a bit too harsh on it.”

    No I’m not. It was plain nearly three decades ago that it wasn’t going to work out worth a damn. Nearly 30 years of throwing good money after bad? We could have had people on the Moon a couple of times a year for all that time & money.

  53. Dave

    God I love naysayers! In reality there’s so much left for us to learn, and who knows what we will be capable of in even fifty to a hundred years (If we live that long…) Naysayers today are no different from naysayers of the past. Naysayers in the past who thought that the world was flat and if you sailed far enough you’d fall off the edge of the planet were in for a rude awakening! And if we want mankind to survive we HAVE to eventually learn to move around. And as far as leaving Earth we don’t know if we are going to always have to use old school rockets to leave. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll build a space elevator.

    And astroquoter is right, it’s the astronaughts choice, and they chose to go in a very honorable way. I personally don’t wish to die alone in some hospital bed. Only to be forgotten. Those astronuaghts live on in history, and are heroes.

    As far as taxpayer dollar goes, I’d rather see it go to NASA and their endeavors than to the pockets of politicians. Which, BTW, I don’t think anybody has realized how much our government has boned us. All the money we spend on the military, NASA, and even public facilities ect.. doesn’t account for hardly any of the trillions of dollars wasted. It’s hard to even tell where all the stimulus money has gone. The banks don’t account for it. So where is it? I didn’t get any money back, did you?

    And if anybody thinks that NASA shouldn’t be funded for maned space projects speak for yourself. How about we stop providing cellphones to the homeless, who obviously don’t need them? I don’t even have a cellphone myself and I get by just fine.

    In the end don’t knock NASA, we don’t spend that much money on them in the big picture, and the advancments they make to human knowledge are definitaly worth it anyways.

    And you’re ruining my plans for a summer home on Mars. Don’t worry, Ahhhnold will turn on the alien generator and we’ll be fine :)

  54. Zucchi

    The answer to our population explosion is to stop having babies. There’s no other option that keeps an intact civilization. That’s got nothing to do with a host of reasons we’ll be going back into space.

  55. Gamercow

    Wow, is the anti-manned exploration movement really getting that much momentum? That’s sad.

    And yes, we should never forget the tragedies of space exploration, but everyone who trains to be an astronaut knows what they are getting in to, knows the risks, and happily go out into the black knowing those risks. Its a dangerous job, but one worth doing.

    How can we grow if we don’t stretch ourselves?

  56. T.E.L.

    Dave Says:

    “God I love naysayers! In reality there’s so much left for us to learn, and who knows what we will be capable of in even fifty to a hundred years (If we live that long…) Naysayers today are no different from naysayers of the past. Naysayers in the past who thought that the world was flat and if you sailed far enough you’d fall off the edge of the planet were in for a rude awakening! And if we want mankind to survive we HAVE to eventually learn to move around. And as far as leaving Earth we don’t know if we are going to always have to use old school rockets to leave. Who knows, maybe someday we’ll build a space elevator.”

    Naysayers? Where are they? I’m all for space exploration. But optimism doesn’t make it happen. Engineering does the trick, and engineering is an exercise in dealing with Reality. Not all things are feasible or even possible. Choices and compromises must be made.

    “And astroquoter is right, it’s the astronaughts choice, and they chose to go in a very honorable way. I personally don’t wish to die alone in some hospital bed. Only to be forgotten. Those astronuaghts live on in history, and are heroes.”

    Unfiltered BS. It’s not all their choice. They don’t even get to choose outright to become astronauts. Candidates must compete for the few slots in the Corps. They don’t pick themselves; that’s done by someone else. They absolutely don’t choose how to fund the Space Program. Astronauts are public employees. Their careers ARE subject to public opinion. Astronauts are no more entitled to space travel than actors are entitled to starring roles.

  57. T.E.L.

    Gamercow Said:

    “And yes, we should never forget the tragedies of space exploration”

    What are your plans this year to memorialize Robert Falcon Scott?

  58. Gamercow

    @tel(57):
    “Candidates must compete for the few slots in the Corps”

    um, doesn’t that mean they WANT to become astronauts? Therefore CHOOSE their path? Or at the very least, aspire?

  59. Gamercow

    “And yes, we should never forget the tragedies of space exploration”

    What are your plans this year to memorialize Robert Falcon Scott?

    I know who that is. Your point?

  60. T.E.L.

    Gamercow Says:

    “um, doesn’t that mean they WANT to become astronauts? Therefore CHOOSE their path? Or at the very least, aspire?”

    You’re being needlessly dense. Wanting it isn’t the same as being entitled to it. You don’t know this by now? They can want it till the cows come home. But without the consent of Congress and the skills of the scientists & engineers, they won’t have it. Astronauts’ careers aren’t their private affairs. They are public employees.

  61. T.E.L.

    Gamercow Said:

    I know who that is. Your point?”

    What are your plans to honor him and his party? Surely you must solemnly honor everyone who’s ever perished in the act of exploration, for the remainder of time. Or are you just an astro-chauvinist?

  62. Gamercow

    Getting back to the subect at hand…

    I was in middle school at the time of the accident, and they had brought a TV into the classroom to watch the first teacher go up into space. There was a distinct moment of unreality when it all happened, and even the teachers didn’t know what to say or do. Everyone is crushed, and the space program goes on a 2 year(?) haitus.

    Cut to 10 years later, and I’m in college, in an Engineering Design course specifically studying the Challenger disaster, the Tacoma Narrows collapse, the Kansas City Hyatt disaster, the Firth of Forth bridge, the Chernobyl disaster, and the DC-9 crashes. During this course, I come to the realization that tragedies come in many forms and happen for many reasons, none of them simple. But they are, as Phil says, inevitable. They also provide a purpose. Study them, learn from them, and apply your knowledge to the future.

  63. T.E.L.

    Gamercow,

    What are your plans to honor Scott, and everyone else?

    And what are your plans to solemnly honor all the truck drivers and factory workers who’ve died on the job? Any day of the week they do more to keep Civilization afloat than all the astronauts who’ve ever lived, and not without considerable risk.

  64. Calli Arcale

    “A ship in port is safe. But that is not what ships are for.”
    — Rear-Admiral Grace “Amazing Grace” Hopper

    It is a delicate balance that must be maintained when choosing to sail on the new ocean. To balance the needs of the mission with the risk to human life. There are no easy answers as to where the balance point should lie. We can choose the easy way out — don’t make the choice, stay on Earth, until we find a better reason to go or a safer way of going. But there is a risk inherent even in the choice of inaction — we risk never going at all. Whether or not that matters depends on whether or not you believe that all our eggs should remain in the basket called Earth.

    There is risk in everything. The Columbia accident was in 2003. Seven good men and women died. We remember that painfully. What we don’t remember is that a week later, in an event entirely unrelated to the Columbia, seven more NASA employees perished when their van went off a road in the Southwest. People will die, no matter how cautious we are. We cannot casually accept those deaths, but we may still need to accept the reality that deaths happen despite our best efforts, and ensure that what deaths do happen are not in vain.

  65. T.E.L.

    Speaking for myself, I haven’t been poo-pooing measured risk to life & limb. Each of us takes on a rather respectable risk just by driving to the store for milk.

  66. Pieter Kok

    I see no real difference between support for manned space exploration beyond the solar system and belief in the healing power of crystals: it may not be ruled out by the laws of physics per se, but their reality is highly unlikely, based on what we currently know about gravitational potentials and lattice vibrations.

  67. andy

    For a start, the idea of significant numbers of humans leaving the Earth is not reasonable. The effort it takes to get a human, plus all the various equipment required to provide an environment for a human to survive out of the Earth’s gravity well puts this far beyond the availability of the vast bulk of humanity. Space is not the answer to overpopulation – any solution will have to be Earth based, the vast majority of Earthborn humanity stays right here on this planet. Same kind of argument can be applied to resource shortage – the cost of space-derived resources is going to far outstrip the prices for equivalents produced on the Earth’s surface, for the simple reason that getting them around the solar system and back to the Earth without producing impact craters is difficult.

    As for destinations and why there is nowhere to go, let’s be very clear here: everywhere in the solar system aside from some portion of the Earth’s surface would be almost instantly lethal for human beings. Furthermore, to get to these places requires travelling through space, which is also instantly lethal with the added bonus of radiation which will kill you somewhat more slowly. And that’s before you start worrying about ensuring a healthy and functional society in such conditions.

    Don’t get me wrong, I would love for space travel to be a possibility, but on analysis it seems that the deck is heavily stacked against it. Is humanity going to be confined to the Earth forever? Maybe, maybe not. But it will probably take a lot more advances in biotechnology (or some kind of AI technology, though with biology there is the advantage of having already-working examples to work with, rather than starting from scratch) to mitigate many of the problems in keeping humans alive before we get there. Some desirables would include resistance to radiation damage à la Deinococcus radiodurans and capability for hibernation. Until that happens, sealed-human-in-a-tin missions are essentially pointless except maybe for more one-off flags-and-footprints theatrics.

  68. JackMann

    We have left the ground below
    Where our earthly frames embarked
    And drew on clouds a fiery arc
    And danced on winds our metal lark.

    We rode the torch into the dark
    Where the careless stars pass by
    And planets in their cradles lie
    To touch the edges of the sky.

    Should our children question why,
    If we die to give them stars,
    And guide them to the face of Mars,
    Tell them that the choice was ours.

    Tell them proudly bear their scars
    As we set the skies aglow
    With our deeds let all men know
    There is no place man cannot go.

  69. T.E.L.

    JackMann Said:

    “There is no place man cannot go.”

    Got evidence?

  70. badnicolez

    In addition to mourning all of the astronauts who perished around this time of the year, we now also get to mourn the demise of our (the US) manned space flight program.

    Hope all of you who voted for Obama are happy. How can someone who was fine with $787B in “stimulus” kill Constellation over a measly $3B/year?

    He will go down in history as one of the worst presidents ever for this and many other poor policy decisions.

  71. Sir Craig

    Wow, the sheer number of buzzkills in these comments is depressing. Yes, currently extra-solar space travel is impossible, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. But is this the legacy those who perished chasing after their dreams would want? “Oh, the cost is too high, both in terms of money and lives. Let’s just focus more on the needs at home and if we want to explore space we can send mindless robots whose only capabilities is to dutifully take pictures, run a few spectral scans, measure various gravitational, radiological and electromagnetic phenomena and get our answers that way. Plus there’s no way we’ll ever get any further than Mars, so let’s not even contemplate that.” I guess practicality trumps desire. So much for that “final frontier” nonsense, eh? That’ll drive the creativity…

    Back in the early 70s the public’s interest was waning as the moon landings became commonplace, and it took Apollo 13 to snap the public out of their “seen it already” complacency. The same with the shuttle tragedies: Suddenly the public was reminded that there was a human element to these missions. The public was forced to remember what it was that these people were risking their lives for and make them think about it. Yes, many thought the price was too high for something as nebulous as expanding our knowledge, but for many more of us we felt an admiration for these people who would take such risks – they became our role models. When you take away that human element, people couldn’t care less. The only reason I even know of the Cassini mission is because I regularly visit this site and enjoy the photos Phil shares with us. When was the last time any of us heard anything about Cassini outside of this site, though? This is why the space program is hurting, because the public could not care less about something they never hear about, and they never hear about it unless there is a human element involved (and sadly, only when the MSM deems it important to cover, such as when disaster strikes. If you think I’m wrong or exaggerating, ask people if they remember Columbia or Challenger, and then ask them if they remember the Mars Polar Lander. Guaranteed a big collective shrug with that one.).

    I remember being stationed at Sheppard AFB in TX, attending technical training, when our instructors told us classes were dismissed, never mind forming up to march back to the dorms, just get there. When we got back to our dorms that’s when we found out about the Challenger tragedy. We sat there stunned as they showed the footage over and over again. I had seen many of the Apollo launches and for the life of me all I could think about was the pyrotechnics that occurred during stage separation as I watched Challenger blow up repeatedly. The next day my classmates and I asked one another if we would ever get on a shuttle following the tragedy we’d just witnessed, and every single one of us said, “Hell yes!” This is what I’m sure every astronaut and cosmonaut who has ever perished during a mission would want to hear. To lose heart due to tragedy only focuses our attention on the hazards and not on the rewards, and there are rewards despite the naysayers.

    So for all those here that are more interested in counting beans and not reaching beyond what we are capable of, I feel sorry for you – I will celebrate those before me who lived and died while giving me reason to hope that we may one day be more than we are now.

  72. T.E.L.

    Sir Craig,

    Most of the criticisms on this thread haven’t had a damn’ thing to do with losing heart over tragedy. It’s been about the supremacy of Reality over sentimentality. Ask a seasoned sailor if the Sea will wait on you to get your act together. It won’t. Nature doesn’t strike deals. It doesn’t ask your opinions. It doesn’t care if you have lofty intentions or a song in your heart. The sea of Space is the exact same way. Writing poetry and speaking on behalf of dead astronauts won’t get your footprints on other planets. Reality makes the rules, and you WILL obey those rules. Failure to pay attention in class gets you two shuttle orbiters in a million pieces and a dozen or so crew dead.

  73. whb03

    TEL – just plain STFU. So nice of you slam people because they don’t honor their fallen heros to your narrow specifications, or so I’m sure you believe. You don’t like the fact that people have – gasp – SENTIMENT over tragedies along the road to advancement, then get the F off of a science-based website.

    And speaking of “reality”… Failure to refuse to think like you gets you stuck on a flat world, unable to fly, unable to count to 20 because nobody has ever done it before and you WILL obey the rules of reality.

    Sentimentally speaking, of course.

    Just plain STFU. Thanks. That is all.

  74. T.E.L.

    whb03 Said:

    “Just plain STFU. Thanks. That is all.”

    Well. I guess you put me in my place. So… WTFAY?

    By the way, this isn’t a science website. If it was it wouldn’t be hosted by Discover Magazine.

    And if you care more about wishes than rationality, then what are you doing here? Phil harps endlessly about how Reality trumps ID, antivax, etc. So you have a problem when someone else agrees with him?

    Know this: I’m not forcing people to think like me. I’m publishing my views on a topic, just like you and everyone else. How could I force people to think in a certain way? It’s not like I have you locked in my basement. This is an open forum on the internet. There’s absolutely nothing I can do to harm anyone here. It’s all talk and not a single gun to anyone’s forehead. If you can’t stand being challenged by dissenting ways of seeing things, then what are you doing out of bed?

  75. Beaver

    Pi-needles Said:
    “Have?” Not anymore. :roll:

    “WTF? Please tell me you are being ironic or something here. Was that meant to be a funny reply to the CT theory question @ (6.) Todd W. ?

    Besides while Ramon on the Columbia was an Israeli, I’m not sure who aboard the Challenger was Jewish. Or why that should matter in any way whatsoever.”

    Yep it is supposed to be a funny reply. Ramon was on Columbia, Resnik was on Challenger.

  76. Sir Craig

    T.E.L.:

    Yes, I know you value reality over what you call sentimentality, but nowhere in what I wrote did I say reality should play second fiddle to drive and desire – they all play a role in our endeavors. What’s sad is you seem to think reality is the end-all, be-all of what defines usefulness and that is just plain wrong.

    Also, you need to man up and admit that you have been using these tragedies as part of your campaign against sending men and women into space – you have done nothing but disparage what they sought to do and what their sacrifice meant to others.

    And frankly, I think I’ve heard enough from people who insist on stomping their feet and saying, “These are the rules, that’s all there is, get used to it because it will never change.” In somewhat recent memory the same thing was claimed about the sound barrier by those who were certain any attempt to break it would result in disaster, and early on they were right. However, technology improved and workarounds were discovered, and now we regularly shatter the sound barrier. Those advances were built on the early tragedies and in their way honored those whose lives ended in pursuit of that “impossible” feat.

    And talk about your non sequitur: “Failure to pay attention in class gets you two shuttle orbiters in a million pieces and a dozen or so crew dead.” What the hell does that mean? Education had nothing to do with those tragedies; complacency and unfortunate accidents did. People ignored weather conditions and materials failed, but no one tried to defy basic physics and no one tried to make 2+2=5 so your point is not only pointless but utterly lacking in any thought whatsoever.

    If sentimentality makes you nauseous, fine, ignore any future responses I make because sentimentality is pretty much all I’m good at: I lack the technical background to impress any PhDs that might be reading this.

  77. T.E.L.

    How do you guys expect to travel to the Stars when you can’t even stomach a smattering of criticism? Criticism is an essential part of a healthy space program. Or a healthy society. Science thrives on it. You think I’m too tough? This is nothing.

  78. Pi-needles

    @ 76. Beaver Says:

    Yep it is supposed to be a funny reply. Ramon was on Columbia, Resnik was on Challenger.

    Fair enough then. I didn’t know about Resnick aboard the Challenger being Jewish. Cheers. :-)

    @ 78. T.E.L. It’s not about people not being able to “stomach criticism”, its about you having the bad taste to disparage & dismiss manned space exploration on this blog thread honouring and commemorating those who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of manned space exploration.

    Did it never occur to you that this might be the wrong place for you to come and rave on about your anti-humans-in-space ideology? That maybe it’d be better for you to post your opinion on this issue in another more appropriate thread?

    Anyhow, you’ve won – congratulatuions but in my opinion the world is poorer for it & poorer for people like you. Hope you’re celebrating wildly.

    Now as # 74. whb03 said please just STFU and go away. :-(

  79. Pieter Kok

    Pi-needles, the tragedy was 24 years ago: is it still too soon for you?

    And remember, skeptics don’t tell skeptics to “STFU”.

  80. I see the spirit of the late, unlamented Senator Proxmire is alive and well and continues in his crusade to stand squarely in front of progress for the exploration of space. It’s a good thing most people are predisposed to ignore people like that and go exploring in places we’ve never been or we’d all still be stuck in the Dark Ages.

  81. T.E.L.

    Pi-needles,

    What anti-humans-in-space ideology? Show me.

    You know what? I’m just as sentimental as anyone. But my sentiments are my private affair, whereas space travel, as of now, is very much a public affair. Astronauts take risks when they’re flying. That fact alone doesn’t mean they’re doing either of us a big favor. Not every act of risky behavior equals a public service; not all risks have equal value. And it’s downright stupid to argue with garbage essentially of the form, “Support our troops!” It’s a tangential issue. I can sympathize with the Troops but still condemn the War. I can sympathize with the Astronauts and still be critical of the Space Program.

    And you’re thinking about this all wrong anyway. If you want people to travel in space as freely as they now hop flights to Vegas, then the last thing you want is for NASA to be wasting its small resources shooting people into space today. What you want is more efficient and effective technologies for propulsion. What NASA needs is to put everything it spends now on the STS into propulsion research. It amounts to setting a goal and investing wisely to that purpose. That way, if you’re still young, you may get to walk on the Moon in your lifetime. Instead you want to fritter away resources now to do not much more than send a privileged few a very short distance up and then come back down. The days when low orbit amounted to exploration ended close to half a century ago. It’s not new ground anymore. The Space Shuttle is a redundant, wasteful machine; and risking people’s lives just to stay comfortably within the same old envelope is massively stupid.

  82. T.E.L.

    Rooker,

    Before you pass sentence on Proxmire, you may want to find out what his voters wanted while he was in office. He had a sworn duty to represent their interests. If the bulk of his constituency didn’t want to support space travel, then Proxmire was doing his job.

  83. whb03

    TEL, nice attempt at changing your tune. You were slamming people left and right, and being outright insulent, because they were paying homage to those who lost their lives to the space program. You were saying that people who believe in the space program were somehow trying to dream their way out of reality, and slamming them for being “non-reality-based”. You were stating ouright that people who have any imagination as motivation are worthy of ridicule. Others noted that imagination was the engine which starts people down the road to scientific accomplishment, such as landing a man on the moon, which you denounced as a non-event. You continued to slam and insult. This is the reason for all of the negative “sentiment” towards your posts.

    Now you are saying no no, it’s not that we should abandon the space program, it’s propulsion research we should be focusing on, not sending people into space at this particular moment. First time I’ve heard one word of support for any sort of space program from you throughout this entire thread. No, I think you changed your tune because you painted yourself into a corner.

    Sorry, but fail.

  84. T.E.L.

    whb03 Said:

    “… such as landing a man on the moon, which you denounced as a non-event.”

    Jeezus, man, where’d I ever say that? Learn how to read.

    “Now you are saying no no, it’s not that we should abandon the space program, it’s propulsion research we should be focusing on, not sending people into space at this particular moment. First time I’ve heard one word of support for any sort of space program from you throughout this entire thread. No, I think you changed your tune because you painted yourself into a corner.

    Sorry, but fail.”

    I guess that makes two of us. Fail on you for continuing to fret about me and my personality when you could be asking if anything said about the larger issue was true or not. Do you think anything I said in that last post about investing in the future of technology is true? If so, then why complain about me? Don’t you want to walk on the Moon? Or are you really just looking for someone to point fingers at and pretend that you’ve really made a difference in the world for telling me how unpleasant I am? It’s cheap & easy to do that. The hard part is figuring out how to really make rockets to the Stars.

  85. Messier Tidy Upper

    New videoclip from that day has now been released – an interesting if sad video taken using Betamax :

    http://nycaviation.com/2010/01/31/previously-unseen-amateur-video-of-space-shuttle-challenger-disaster/

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