Brad Causey
Brad Causey,
Editor and Publisher
Doug Helton
Kelly J. Logan
R. Shannon Pollard
Kevin Sommers
David R. Wehry
Brian Bordwine
James E. Foy
The Freedom Letter
For the world is hollow, and I have touched the sky...
It has only been a few days since we lost the space ship Columbia. Our hearts go out to the families of the gallant crew. It seems only a short march of days since the space ship Challenger also failed to return to earth with its seven passengers.
You may be wondering where the title came from. I cannot take credit. In 1968, during the final season of the original Star Trek television series, this was the title of a third season episode. The crux of the story is a society that foresees its planet is doomed. The leaders build a space ship which (on the inside) resembles a planet. They put everyone on it... on a course to safety. Captain Kirk and the Enterprise come across it after it has veered off course a few generations later. In an encounter with one of its older residents, he tells the story of climbing the highest (forbidden) mountain and touching the "sky." He realizes the sky (in this case) is really the outer skin of the ship. For this he must die.
Will we ever really know what actually happened to Columbia? Was it a catastrophic mechanical failure? Did they encounter a errant piece of spacejunk? Is there a flaw in the design? Was there a maintenance/budget problem? All of these are possible. Are any of them probable? If so, will NASA (the government) admit it? Only time will tell.
We all must understand that space today is truly our frontier. 500 years ago, it was the great oceans. 1000 years ago it was travel of more than a day. Prior to that, simply a struggle to survive. Our economic system has made even space travel seem almost routine. It has never been routine to those who have actually traveled into space.
Any tertiary study of engineering will make you feel humble. A few examples. The standard passenger car has about 200 horsepower. It is also capable of exceeding 100 miles per hour. (give or take a few horsepower and a few miles per hour) It would seem that about twice the power ought to give you about twice the speed, right? That assumption would be absolutely wrong. Think about it. A Winston cup car approaches 200 mph on the non-restrictor plate races and has 800 horsepower! (this is a factor of 4 for the math challenged) An Indy car has about the same power, but is much lighter, and needs reverse wings just to keep it on the ground. It will exceed 200 mph. Formula one is much the same story. Tall buildings are in the news lately. Any building which exceeds about 70 stories has almost quadruple the expense because of the necessary structure on the lower levels to support it. Remember the WTC twin towers began in bedrock 7 stories below ground. This does not even consider the waterpipes, electrical conduits, elevators, staircases etc, which in some form or fashion extend to the upper floors. Remember it took 7 years to build them, and only an hour and half to bring them down. All of these examples are designed to stay on the ground. Imagine the complexity of something designed to fly.
A conventional passenger jet is a lot more complicated than the average person realizes. All it takes is a single pump to malfunction, too much weight in a certain area, and you must land before you were planning to. A couple of other problems, back up systems don't work, and you meet the ground at a substantially accelerated rate! (I am not trying to be funny)
Take the brief descriptions above and add:
Escaping the earth's gravity to become weightless. Temperature extremes from 2500 degrees to absolute zero. Normal atmosphere to no atmosphere. Taking off vertically to landing horizontally. Sitting on the ground to 17,000 miles per hour. The complication of such a device is astonishing. Yet we have successfully flown over 100 missions. It is truly amazing. This does not even include the 3 types of missions we flew multiple times in the 60's and 70's. Why we even went to the moon more than once! (apologies to Jackie Gleason)
The facts are the American space program has been wildly successful. Even the Russians have much more than a winning record. A lot of the devices we take for granted each and every day are a direct result of the space program. Microwave ovens, pocket calculators, cell phones, remote controls, personal computers, and of course, the internet. (apologies to Al Gore)
The American space program has also had 3 spectacular failures. Apollo 7 burned on the launch pad in 1967. 3 souls lost. 1986, the Challenger, 7 souls lost. And, 2003, the Columbia, 7 added souls. There have a been a few close calls also. Apollo 13 comes to mind. All of those who have ventured into space are pioneers. And the bravest of the brave. Ask Jim Lovell, would he go back? The answer is yes. John Glenn had the privilege of doing just that.
In honoring all of those lost, we need to remember the facts. In the overall scheme of mankind, we have all benefited from their sacrifice. None intended to die. All of them knew it was a possibility. All willingly took the risk. We will continue our exploration of the universe. We can and we should. To do otherwise would make their sacrifice both vain and empty.
Our world is not hollow, and some of us have had the privilege of touching the sky.
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