Sunday, February 02, 2003


I got a chill last week NASA announced that it was getting ready to put teachers in space again. Then I woke up Saturday to the news about the Columbia shuttle. Do you get the feeling that there are fates that shouldn't be tempted?

When I was a boy, I loved the space program. Even now, I can tell you the name of every American who flew into space in each of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

Three days ago, I couldn't have told you the names of any of the STS-107 astronauts. I knew one was from Israel... another perhaps unfortunate public relations effort of NASA, just like sending Christa McAuliffe ( into space. Even today, I still can't name all seven without looking.

The risks each took seemed so small these days... over 100 shuttle missions, most of which went smoothly. But once more, we see how enormous the risk is.

Surely, questions will be asked. What hit the wing of the shuttle on liftoff? Why wasn't the wing examined more closely in space? Did NASA downplay the possible damage to avoid taking astronaut time away from paid experiments? If there was a possiblity of damage, why not dock the shuttle with the International Space Station, while it's there, and leave the shuttle in orbit or return it to earth automatically (even if it meant crashing it crewless into the Pacific Ocean)? Or even the first question -- why employ such a bizarre design in the first place?

Most important, remember this: As short as these pioneers' lives were, and as tragically as they died, at least they were aware of the risks they faced. And they were doing what they wanted to. Compare that with the 2,800 who died on September 11, 2001.

Astronaut biographies can be found at