January 28, 2011 by Daniel Stack
In one of life’s unfortunate coincidences, the greatest disasters in the American space program occurred, though over several years, within a one week period at the end of January and the start of February.
- January 27, 1967 – During a pad-test, afire broke out within the Apollo capsule, taking the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.
- January 28, 1986 – Shortly after launch the shuttle Challenger exploded, taking the lives of Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, and Ronald McNair.
- February 1, 2004 – The shuttle Columbia burned up during reentry, taking the lives of David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, and William McCool.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the loss of Challenger. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. I was a freshman in high school. Though the shuttle flights had begun to seem “routine” by this time this flight was notable as it was carrying Christa McAuliffe, intending her to be the first teacher into space. As a result, many students watched this tragedy live at school (though for me it was a snow day).
In the aftermath of the Columbia loss, the shuttle program is winding down. It was intended to be replaced by the Constellation space program but that program was canceled by President Obama, to be replaced by a combination of commercial spaceflights and use of Soyuz spacecraft. Though there is legitimate criticism of the cost of our manned space program and there is legitimate reason to pursue commercial space flight – indeed commercial space flight is in many ways a good thing – it seems unfortunate that our nation will soon be without its own spacecraft. It seems akin to the idea of keeping the navy but eliminating our own ships.
Regardless, I do believe we have a destiny beyond our own world. I was once a die-hard Trekkie but physics is not friendly to that vision of the future with other stars reachable before the end of a commercial break. However, that is not to say that the universe beyond our own planet is boring. Just the act of humans living and being born on other worlds would be an amazing feat, a step towards humanity’s destiny not being wrapped up on one tiny planet.
Mike Okuda, involved with both Star Trek and NASA, has set up a mini-film festival in his blog dedicated to reminding us why we explore beyond our own world. It’s well worth checking out.