Moments after sending you last month’s issue, I heard of the tragic loss of the Columbia shuttle, and its 7 astronauts.
Indulge me for a couple of minutes, as I know this is not a Lawson topic. But, at times like these, we need to reflect on both the personal meanings as well as to try to grasp the greater meaning.
As a child, I was enthralled–as no doubt some of you were–with the space program. I grew up during the ‘space race’ in the 60’s, and I’ll always remember watching (in black-and-white, of course) with the rest of the world on that July night in 1969 when we finally reached the moon.
I always hoped that someday I would be come an astronaut. The rest of the world, unfortunately, was not yet ready for an astronaut wearing glasses on the moon, and after realizing this, I re-adjusted my expectations. I always envied the seriousness of ‘Mission Control’, and pictured myself working there. Somewhere along the way, my aspirations obviously changed, and I ended up on the ‘business’ side rather than the ‘science’ side of technology.
The space program has occasionally touched my life. I always envied my brother for having a personally autographed photo of John Glenn, who lived a few blocks from my house, and was a member of our church. The father of my son’s kindergarten teacher was a shuttle astronaut in the 1980s, and came to talk to my son’s class. You can "bet the house" that I was there to listen! Now, with Columbia, I learn that one of the astronauts was David Brown, who grew up in Arlington and graduated from my high school.
I’ve always felt that, after our military and law enforcement officers, the men and women in our space program–with a few exceptions–are the ‘unsung heroes’ of our day. Even after countless missions–the vast majority successful–I’ll bet you can’t name even 10 astronauts.
If you’ve ever wanted to bask in our own "mere mortality", contrast our work life with those in the space program–astronaut or mission controller or whatever. Now, how important is that report you’re working on? Or that interface you’re writing? Or that journal entry you’re entering? Writing this article? "Life-in-the-balance" important? Not even close.
There will undoubtedly be some new "lessons learned" from this accident. Processes will be examined and adjusted. Perhaps we’ll scrap the shuttle and accelerate development of a next generation replacement.
No doubt, we will again ask ourselves "is the risk still acceptable"? The reality is that we often don’t know what the results are, until we’ve actually achieved them. The results may not be immediate, but I’d argue that the long-term benefits of space research are far-reaching, and that it’s impossible to categorize what risk is too great. If space research provides a cure for cancer or AIDS, don’t you think the risks were worth it?
I’ve always advocated that if we hadn’t gone to the moon, we’d be at least 20 years behind where we currently are in technology. At the risk of sounding too socialistic, the benefits of the space program on our society and our "industrial base" are so compelling, there’s no way we should abandon it.
So, while we all should pause and mourn the loss of these 7 astronauts, we must remember that their work was indeed not in vain, and that we can, we should, and we will continue.