Roamy here, continuing my series of posts on remembering the fallen astronauts.
Mr. RFH had the unpleasant misfortune of telling me about both the Space Shuttle disasters. He found me between classes 25 years ago to tell me about Challenger (I cut Deformables class, IIRC, to go watch the news the rest of the day), and woke me on the Saturday morning of February 1, 2003 to tell me about Columbia.
To my knowledge, NASA picks crews based on mission needs and astronaut capabilities, not filling any certain quotas. I find it interesting that both crews were five men and two women, one black astronaut (Ron McNair was only the second black astronaut to fly in space, on STS-41B), exotic names like Onizuka and Chawla, ordinary names like Smith and Brown.
President Bush’s speech brought some comfort.
Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on. In the skies today, we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see, there is comfort and hope. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Lift your eyes and look to the heavens. Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.” The same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth, yet we can pray that all are safely home.
Over the next weeks and months, we investigated the accident. Emails and questions circulated, in particular, a pretty damning email sent a few days before the accident from a thermal protection system engineer, outlining possible damage scenarios for Columbia and saying basically, you’d better be ready in Mission Control if the landing gear is damaged. Oh Lord, if it had only been a flat tire. We found out about requests for pictures that had been denied because “nothing could have been done”. (Expletive that – we would have figured out SOMETHING.) We argued over whether the tile impact prediction was right or not. The tiles are so delicate, you can crush them easily, but it wasn’t the tile that failed. The evidence pointed to the reinforced carbon-carbon.
And we swore, not ever again.