Thursday, January 28, 2016

Remembering the Space Program

On January 28, 1986 the Challenger space shuttle exploded seconds after launch, killing all aboard.

All the magic went out of the concept of reusable orbital vehicles. Unlike the generation that saw the deaths of the Apollo 1 crew as a reason to try harder to reach the moon, this generation gave in to critics of the space program and abandoned the important work the program had just begun to accomplish. The shuttle program was the first step in taking humanity offworld, of opening up the resources of the entire solar system to our use as opposed to dooming us to an increasing problem of dwindling natural resource.

The shuttle program was 14 years old at the time, but the shuttles themselves had only been flying for about five years. The novelty of watching a shuttle launch had not faded. We were used to success and the explosion was confusing at first, then horrifying. After Challenger, every shuttle launch engendered anxiety and tension. The worst manifested in 2003 with the loss of Columbia. The space shuttles were supposed to be used only 20 years. The program went on 30 and put a permanent station in orbit. It accomplished more than any previous space program and forwarded our progress into space even more than the moon missions.

Today NASA is reduced to going to Russia with hat in hand to beg rides to the International Space Station. It still operates robot exploration into the system, but that is no substitute for human exploration. It is imperative that human beings maintain a primary role in space exploration. Robots are fine for gathering data but it takes a human mind to interpret and develop that data into usable information.

People have sacrificed their lives in the space program because they believed in its goal - to send mankind into space. Using robots is not enough to do justice to their sacrifice. We need to build a base on the Moon and then push on toward the outer planets.

It's time to leave the crib and grow into adults.