Children didn’t wake up to cartoons last Saturday morning.
The entire nation instead arose to the terrible news that Space Shuttle Columbia broke up and exploded upon reentry over Eastern Texas.
Seven of our brightest men and women perished along with the oldest orbiter in NASA’s fleet.
And even as the country mourns the loss of these heroic explorers and scientists, hope remains that we will not end up mourning the loss of the NASA program.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has literally brought the United States and the entire world to new scientific heights. Thanks to NASA, we have a better understanding of our own planet, and our neighboring ones as well.
NASA has put up weather satellites that have helped us better prepare for natural disasters. NASA rockets and shuttles have carried top-secret payloads for the military. Surveillance satellites allow us to watch our neighbors and our enemies with the greatest of stealth. NASA satellites have helped climatologists and meteorologists understand global warming and weather patterns. More than 30 years ago, NASA sent a dozen men to another world thousands of miles away.
Many modern conveniences, including cell phones, remote controls and satellite television, have been brought to us thanks to NASA research and development.
Right after his inauguration, President Bush cut a huge portion of NASA’s budget. Among other things, these cuts forced NASA to scrap its construction of an escape module for the International Space Station. This means our crew floating above the Earth has no way to get home other than an antiquated Russian Soyuz capsule, a throwback to the Apollo age.
Perhaps Bush’s cuts reflect a wide cultural perception-the American public barely pays attention to the space program anymore, much less shows passionate interest in NASA goals and ideals. But a tragedy like this reminds all of us what an inextricable part of our culture NASA is. It reminds us why children still dream of reaching the stars.
Just as the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger 17 years ago shelved American human spaceflight for two and a half years, this disaster will likely shut down the agency for unforeseen months, maybe years.
But space exploration should not halt. Yes, NASA should take all the time it needs to reconstruct the destroyed orbiter and determine what went wrong; but this tragedy should not put an end to 42 years of spaceflight.
The American people, and specifically people from our generation, should take this opportunity to learn more about NASA and support its future endeavors.
There is no better way to honor those who died Saturday than to watch something they loved – NASA and space exploration – reach ever upward.