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February 1, 2003

Like everyone else, I’m just waiting for more space shuttle news. This is awful.

UPDATE: From the AP story at the New York Times:

On launch day, a piece of insulating foam on the external fuel tank came off during liftoff and was believed to have struck the left wing of the shuttle. NASA said as late as Friday that the damage to the thermal tiles was believed to be minor and posed no safety concern during the fiery decent through the atmosphere.
Re-entry has always been a dangerous thing, and we’ve never lost anyone during it. Looks like we may have just run out of luck.

FURTHER UPDATE: Attached to this post on Teresa’s weblog is a comment from John M. Ford that is a must-read. And lifelong space activist Tim Kyger has a comment to this Electrolite post which brings up something I hadn’t thought of.

MORE: A roundup of what we know so far, from Spaceflight Now.

MORE: The debris track, as seen by NOAA radar. Oh my god.

MORE: Of course, dozens—probably hundreds—-of bloggers are tracking this story. Seth Johnson is doing a very good job of linking to diverse information. Jim Henley’s observations are very much worth reading. [09:57 AM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Like everyone else,:

David J. Greenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 10:27 AM:

Oh, damn.

The second time I've been gut-punched in the AM, blows separated by seventeen years and four days.

Scobee Smith Resnik Onizuka McNair Jarvis McAuliffe.
Husband Chawla Clark Ramon McCool Brown Anderson.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

Chris Quinones ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 10:40 AM:

NBC news is steadfastly denying any connection to terrorism, but it's been pointed out that one of the shuttle astronauts is Israeli, and the Joint Chiefs are meeting. My cynical guess is that the administration will find a way to use this to get their war under way. Curse them, bastards.

pnh@panix.com ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 10:47 AM:

Both CNN and the AP are quoting "senior Administration officials" as dismissing the idea that it was terrorism. Glenn Reynolds, who is way hawkish, just posted a whole bunch of sensible reasons why it's probably not. (Starting with, if you were going to blow up the shuttle, you'd do it on takeoff. Sabotage set to kick in on re-entry would be hugely tricky.)

The question comes up because everyone's on edge, and because one of the astronauts was Israeli. But I think we can put the possibility firmly into the "unlikely" bin, and early indications are that even the Administration is doing so.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 10:52 AM:

Shit. Shit shit shit.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 11:05 AM:

Glenn Kinen writes over on Eschaton's comment section:

Oh, God, please, no soapboxes, no conservative terrorist theories, no liberal analyses.

Please, a few moments of grief unsullied by politics. This is awful, just awful...
Yes, exactly.

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 11:10 AM:

One other thought. Two words: Space Station.

There are three humans waiting on board *Alpha* for a ride home. Yes, they've got a lifeboat attached; a Soyuz. But they've been in free fall for about four to five months now (I forget the exact figure). The rentry g-load for a Soyuz is gonna be 8 to 9 gees (versus the peak 1.5 g load during a Shuttle landing -- Story Musgrave stood UP during the entire rentry of his last Shuttle mission). I worry about their ability to get back without a lot of injury.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 11:27 AM:

I'm guess Expedition 6 gets recalled within a week. I seriously doubt the STS will ever fly again, given the combination of age, tragedy, politics, economics, and the deficit. Given that, and the abymsal condition of the Russian space program, the ISS will probably be abandonded.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:08 PM:

The Russians have been sending people up for months-long missions and bringing them back via Soyuz for a long time. I think the Alpha crew will be okay.

Not like that makes the rest of it any better.

Dave Hemming ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:16 PM:

The msnbc story gives the presumed point of impact for the first Israeli astronaut as Palestine, near Waco.

The Fates have a really unpleasant sense of theatre.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:22 PM:

You can believe MSNBC if you want, but according to the NOAA radar map, the debris came down between Alexandria LA, and the towns of Lufkin and Tyler in Texas, some distance from Waco.

Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:22 PM:

I still have the strange reactions of a reporter (it has been decades) -- numb concentration, an almost insane desire for more information, calculating consequences.

It has been a couple of hours now and it is starting to hurt. A lot. I may get lost in work for a while . . .

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:23 PM:

Actually, that NOAA map is the debris track as seen from Shreveport. Other radar maps show further extensions. There are multiple reports of debris in Palestine.

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:24 PM:

A dull ache this time rather than the sharp tang of unforeseen sorrow with Challenger. Somehow after that moment you knew it would happen again someday, the way you know that someone you know will one day say to you, "I have cancer". No less painful for it.

And also: What Glenn Kinen said. Let's leave all the soapbox stuff for another day at the least. Frankly, I'd be the happiest man on Earth if that other day never comes, and we can avoid the conspiracy theories left and right, just acknowledging a terrible accident as such, grieving as normal human beings for once.

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:25 PM:

David Moles point is spot on. I'd forgotten that.

Erik Olsen's point, too, I think is spot on. *sigh*

I live here in Fort Worth. I didn't see it/hear it, because of (of all things) the trash truck, which picked up our trash as the exact moment of the overflight.

The debris field is, indeed, the story of the morning here for the local news. *sigh* again...

A few further personal and venal thoughts. I worked in the Senate in 1995 and 1996 on the professional staff of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space (of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation -- yeah, John McCain fired my ass in late '96). Thank ghu this didn't happen on *my* watch -- I'd have to investigate this accident and write up a report on it.

The current staff of the STS Subcommittee -- hell, the entire full committee staff -- aren't up to it. Not the GOP staff, nor the Democratic. No depth there on these issues; and not that many staff either in the first place! This is not a partisan comment, but one with respect to the fact that space wasn't and isn't a priority with this Committee or it's Members. For a lot of good political reasons, actually. One might not like those reasons, but they still obtain.)

FWIW, the House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee (of the House Science Committee) *are* up to it. Just like with _Challenger_.

Dana Rohrabacher just dodged a bullet. He just stepped down from the Chairmanship of the Subcommittee (term limits!).

There are many, many consequences here that I can see (I just had a shower and had time to think...).

NASA was slated to unveil it's FY '04 budget request this coming Tuesday. I think that'll be put on hold now. As will a slew of the possible program initiatives that that particular budget request might have contained.

I think that NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe's job might be in danger here. He was put in place by the Bushies to make sure that *nothing bad would happen at NASA* during the Bush Administration. Whether or not it's his fault doesn't matter -- something *has* now happened.

I think at a minimum that Mr. O'Keefe can kiss his dream of being Secretary of Defense in the Second Bush Administration goodbye now.

A further consequence will be that those of us aruging for land overflight of rockets will have one hell of a case to make now -- and I don't think that it will be *able* to be made. Alas. So forget any cheap space transportation for a long while. (It's not a technical issue; CATS is a political issue -- organizations not thinking it can be done at all.)

I now have to leave and go to the dog pound to look for our lost dog. So all in all, a *great* frickin' day...

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:26 PM:

Whoops, Patrick, you're right. Sorry, Dave.

Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:30 PM:

Ochon is ochon o.

This is so bad, in so many ways.

Dammit. I was going to say more, but everything I try to say sounds stupid.

Everything seems stupid.

Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:46 PM:

Thanks for posting the URL to the NOAA - an awful
and fascinating image.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:50 PM:

It had to be rain, I thought. It wasn't.

It's actually not the debris trail, but a trail of ionized air left by the shuttle's passage. Debris would have fallen from the sky, but the path of ionizied air can persist for hours. You can see it, in the loops, moving to the east with the winds. Radio operators could use that trail to send messages across the world -- they do a simliar thing with metorite trails.

Ghosts above, carrying hopes...

Aleksey C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:51 PM:

With regards to the people still on the ISS and the Soyuz capsule's 8-9 g load on reentry:
Certainly, it won't be easy, but the Russians have had guys (or was it guy singular) spend more than a year in space, on Mir, and then come down on a Soyuz, and he came out allright IIRC...

God, this is terrible. I don't know what to write.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 12:53 PM:

Actually, I read somewhere just a few minutes ago, and I'm sorry I can't recall immediately where, that it is debris; pulverized aluminum shows up exceptionally well on weather radar.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 01:01 PM:

Additionally, the rather credible site Spaceflight Now appears to think it's debris.

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 01:15 PM:

Aluminum shards do reflect radar very well, it's called chaff. But chaff works best when it's a quarter wavelength long. WSR-88D doppler radars operate at 2820Mhz, which means a full wavelength is about 10cm, and a 1/4 wavelength is about 2cm long.

I don't see a random explosion putting a huge path of 2cm long pieces of aluminum -- that can hang in the atmosphere for hours.

The amateur radio guys I know say it's ionization. I'm picking up, right now, a bunch of traffic from Texas on the 80M band -- a band that's normally silent during the daytime, due to propogation. It's quite possible I'm hearing the bounce off the trail.

I could be wrong, of course -- it could be debris. But even aluminum powder would have trouble hanging up for very long.

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 01:15 PM:

You're right, Patrick. Anything metallic that's of about the right size makes a very good radar reflector. That's how chaff works for ECM.

Since we're talking raindrop size targets in normal use, I reckon any metal fragments producing such strong returns will be small. And there's a lot of energy being reflected from that debris trail.

That ring of mostly green seems to be the ground clutter around the radar itself. Check the link on how the radar works. The aerial is looking at a low angle, half a degree above the horizon. It's nowhere near the altitude of any ionisation trail.

Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 01:30 PM:

I'd be less concerned about the ISS crew getting a ride back (they will, somehow) but in their state of mind right now. Besides being colleagues, they were the last to see the Columbia crew alive. Damn.

The news is running helicopter footage of an awful debris field outside of Ft. Worth.

I hope they find enough pieces to definitively pinpoint the cause.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 02:10 PM:


I hope this will, at least, stand as a reminder of our dreams in this awful time.

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 02:20 PM:

The STS-107 crew did not visit the Space Station. They were a stand-alone science flight. In fact, there is and was a lot of politics surrounding this particular Shuttle mission -- but more on that later.

I just visited the dog pound. On the way there, it all was brought home to me by one of those electronic highway signs asking anyone who sees a bit of Shuttle debris to call a number for the highway patrol/cops that was given...

Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 02:37 PM:

Yes. Columbia (and Challenger) were built heavier. When it turned out that the dynamic loads on the airframe were much less than expect, the rest of the shuttle fleet was built with a lighter frame.

Columbia could not reach the ISS orbit (222nm, 49 degree inclination) with a useful payload, so, after refit, it was dedicated to other missions, while the other shuttles were tasked to ISS construction and support.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 02:47 PM:

Tim, your comment on the politics surrounding STS-107 has deepened an already deep dread that Fred Pohl's notion that this kind of disaster is a three-legged stool; his examples a decade ago included Challenger and Chernobyl. If memory serves (and I think it's not serving really well just now) those legs are a technology weakness, financial limitations, and political pressure.

I'm not putting this forward as a partisan position: note that the two examples above had political components from the Republican and Communist parties, respectively. But any time a dangerous operation must succeed for political reasons, the risk of loss through poor judgement is increased. I hope political considerations were not the dominant factor this time.

At times like this I almost envy those of you with religious beliefs: at least you can find something useful to do in prayer, while we atheists can only grieve.

Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 03:31 PM:

Thanks for having this forum up, Patrick. For those of us who don't blog, it's really useful to have places to look at things.

Damn, damn, damn. Hard times. Let's feel the grief before we try to find the reasons.

Tom Whitmore

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 03:33 PM:

Nice headline from the Washington Post:

Shuttle Loss Puts Mir Operation in Jeopardy

For sheer time-warp that almost beats USA Today'sUS units intensify hunt for Saddam” from a couple of weeks ago.

Kathrn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:16 PM:

Heard it here first, and then decided not to think about it for a few hours.

What makes it seem real to me is the Accuweather web page "Space Shuttle Visible on Doppler Radar ": http://wwwa.accuweather.com/adcbin/public/headlines.asp?iws=0

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:16 PM:

With all due respect (by which I mean a lot of respect), Tom, I am not capable of separating grieving from looking for causes. I guess it's the engineer in me -- reading the discussion of the radar returns in the atmosphere made me irresistably speculate about the size and nature of the solid reaction products resulting from the exposure of aluminum, copper, plastic, and human flesh to an oxygen-nitrogen plasma and a hypersonic shock wave. Would this produce particles of (say) aluminum oxides and nitrides small enough to be remain suspended in air?

This isn't meant as a rebuke or complaint, rather a plea for understanding that some of us have to take it all in one gulp and can't hold back the part of our grief that is entangled with cause and process and the human limitations of engineering.

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:23 PM:

Bob Webber --- (and hello!): The politics of this flight occured years ago; there wasn't any rush to launch or anything like that. For many years, the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies (they're the Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA) wanted NASA to fly one more microgravity research mission. These folks on House VA/HUD are real fans of microgravity research (I don't know why exactly, but they are). They spent three or so years trying to pressure NASA into flying one last independent Shuttle-based microgravity research mission, since it was their view (correct, IMHO) that there would be a great gap in time during the construction of the Space Station before any new micrograv research might take place. And anyway, _Columbia_ wasn't able to fly to the Station; so this was something to do with it, too.

NASA finally relented, and agreed to fly STS-107 as a micrograv research mission.

But wait; there's more! The initial payload for STS-107 was to be the VA/HUD-mandated microgravity research mission AND _Triana_, which would have been launched from _Columbia_ from orbit. Remember _Triana_? It has another, perjorative name: GoreSat. It sits, completely ready for flight, in a dry nitrogen container at the Goddard Space Flight Center, waiting for someone to allow it to be launched. (I am a _Triana_ fan, FWIW. It SHOULD be flown. IMHO. YMMV...)

Irony after irony. _Triana_'s major foe in Congess was/is Tom DeLay, who hates it with a fierce unreasoning passion. The fact that STS-107 was a microgravity mission is primariy due to...Tom DeLay.

In CY 1999, the fight over _Triana_ occured. It was fought to a draw by DeLay. The outcome at that time was that the National Research Council would be tasked to examine the science of the _Triana_ mission; if it was determined to be worthwhile science, then the _Triana_ mission would then be allowed to continue. Absent the NRC report, the _Triana_ team was to stand down.

They did -- it resulted in a six month delay in the assembly of _Triana_. The NRC report came back; it was favorable; the folks working on _Triana_ stood up again and went back to work on their spacecraft.

But that six month hiatus meant that the development schedule of _Triana_ and that of the STS-107 mission were no longer in sync with each other. So, it was decided to fly _Triana_ on some future Shuttle mission.

As a result, many new experiments were added to the STS-107 micrograv mission, using the mass tradeoff that the removal of _Triana_ allowed.

The election of 2000 occured. Bush the 2nd didn't want to fly _Triana_ either; and that message was transmitted to NASA, which packed it off and up into storage.

But a final irony. Early in 2000, the development schedules for the STS-107 mission and _Triana_ again came back into sync (STS-107's flight slipped six months). But by then, there was no way short of *removing* experiments from the STS-107 mission that _Triana_ would be able to make it onto _Columbia_. Of course, this didn't happen. And it will probably *never* happen.

Nothing certain in life other than Death and Texas...

James Veitch ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:32 PM:

Just a quick clarification, as I am posting from just north of Tyler Texas, Dallas is closer to Tyler and Palestine than Waco. Local reports has Nacadoches Texas as covered in debris.
My sister, who also lives in Tyler, heard it as it happened.

Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:44 PM:

We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth;
Let us rest our eyes on the friendly skies
And the cool, green hills of Earth.
-- Robert A. Heinlein

That was one of my first thoughts when I heard the news. I had to look it up to make sure I got the wording right. Then I cried -- not the first time today, either. Then I had to find somewhere to post it. (Yes, I suspect that one of these days I need to start my own blog.)

I'm old enough to remember the concern about the tiles on John Glenn's Mercury capsule. That time, and every time since, the tiles did their job.

This time, forty years and dozens -- hundreds? -- of landings later, it looks like maybe they didn't. As you said, Patrick, this one time our luck didn't hold.

I'm appalled at the thought some people have expressed that the space program might be cancelled. It wasn't after Apollo 1; it wasn't after Apollo 13; it wasn't after Challenger; it shouldn't be now. And I don't think it will be. After a time of mourning and of doublechecking and beefing-up the safety precautions, we'll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and shoot off into space again.

It's what people do, from the time we're tiny babies: Experiment. Explore. Investigate. Try. Fail. Try again.

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:49 PM:

Thanks, Tim, and hello to you, too. I feel, hmm, not "better" but "less bad" after reading your comments.

Sam Gentile ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 04:52 PM:

Has anyone else seen William Gibson's moving "Columbia Sadness"?

He touched something deep in me that is sad today.
I wrote earlier today:
Gibson captures my mood today. That of sadness to the very fiber of my being. Yesterday, we put rocket and space sheets on Jonathan's bed. I had remberences of being that 7 year old in that elementary school in 1969, reading those astronaut and NASA transcripts in front of the class. It was my obession, my dream. We bought Jonathan 4 space books today before we heard of this. Man. I observe a moment of silence for all the astronauts and their familes.

Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 05:01 PM:

Lois, just wait until you start hearing the gits who start nerking "Well, if God had intended us to travel in space, He would have given us a stairway to the stars!" Living in Dallas proper, I know I'm going to hear it, so I'm staying inside rather than snap and have the rest of my day resemble the end of a Kurosawa film.

Otherwise, I have to agree with everyone: kee the politics out of things for now. Of course, that doesn't mean that the really ignorant don't deserve a good punch in the mouth, like the guy who decided to post a sale for "authentic Columbia wreckage" on eBay a half-hour after news got out. (The shlub was selling a garden hose adaptor in Germany, and my most fervent hope is that his afterlife is spent having Carrot Top read David Eddings and Piers Anthony novels to him until the end of time.)

Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 05:08 PM:

It looks like the radar pictures have expired.

Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 05:13 PM:

One of the US TV stations has just reported that there are already a couple of online auction sites with people advertising debris from the Shuttle for sale...

Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 05:19 PM:

The NOAA radar images were captured and turned into a QuickTime animation by Steve Miller on a page reached fromone of his blog entries, as noted by Seth Johnson, whose compendium entries are referenced from PNH's summary entry.

Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 05:58 PM:

Jordin and I didn't hear about this until quite late. We slept late, being exhuasted and then went out for lunch. After that we stopped by the grocery store on the way back to the house. While JOrdin ran in to get things, I turned on the radio. And laid my head down on the steering wheel and cried.

Still, there are worse fates in the world than to die doing something you wanted more than anything else to do. Something you knew was dangerous and whent ahead because it was important. Because you wanted to. We must, as always, learn what we can from our failures and go on to bigger and better things which would not have been possible without their sacrifice.


Antony 'Dop' Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 07:25 PM:

With regard to Paul Riddell's comment, there was some idiot on the BBC news today saying how there should be no more manned space flight because it was dangerous.
"Bollocks to that!" I yelled at the TV..
When Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, it was dangerous.
When Amy Johnson flew from England to Australia, it was dangerous.
When Chuck Yaeger broke the sound barrier, it was dangerous.
And when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, it was dangerous.
All those people and more knew that what they were doing was dangerous and they might lose their lives doing it. But they considered the danger intelligently and did it anyway.
The moment mankind stops doing things because "it's dangerous" is the moment we are diminished as a people.

Idiots like that and the people Paul talks of just annoy me mightily.

I've been glued to BBC News 24 since coverage began back around 2 pm (GMT), It's a tragedy. It's a tragedy for the crew's family, friends and colleagues, who have lost people close to them. It's a tragedy for the people of Israel, who would have been celebrating the return of their first astronaut, but are now mourning the loss of a national hero. Also the people of India have lost a heroine, the first female astronaut from India - India of course having some plans for space travel themselves...

And it's a tragedy for all of us, in the loss of what the space shuttle means - or at least was meant to mean. It's another nail in the coffin of the future we were all promised way back in our childhoods.

And I've been reminded of what Kennedy said way back then. "We choose to go to the moon and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard."

Not because they are easy, but because they are hard. That's the kind of attitude we need more of. Manned space flight is hard, and it's dangerous, but it stands for our future as a species.

Per Ardua Ad Astra,

Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 07:52 PM:

Regarding the 'auctions' - I looked at one on EBay, and the person had nothing to sell yet. He was saying he'd go out and get debris. And minimum price was $10,000.

Ghoulish, yes, but I wouldn't be surprised if money would change hands, but not merchandise...

Stephanie ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 07:57 PM:

Thought I'd provide a few maps for quick reference.

Here's Nacogdoches:

... and Palestine:

Palestine is a gorgeous lakeside community, and a popular retirement area. Nacogdoches is famous for nothing at all, save that Joe Lansdale lives there.

Thank you, everyone, for the radar maps. I gather that debris has fallen closer to us than I thought.

Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 07:59 PM:

Anyone know if Kalpana Chawla was the first female Indian astronaut, or the first Indian astronaut of either sex?

Tim Kyger ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 09:34 PM:

David Greenbaum had the right idea, up there at the start of these various comments, but there are a few people missing from that list ---

First off, there is Vladimir Kamarov, who died in the crash of Soyuz 1. He died a few days after the Apollo 1 crew did, but in actual spaceflight -- the first human to do so. His parachute fouled due to the spacecraft being totally out of control during entry.

Then there were Viktor Patsayev, Georgi Dobrovolsky, and Vladislav Volkov, who were the crew of Soyuz 11. They were the next humans to die in actual spaceflight. After a few weeks aboard the *very first space station* they died on entry; a valve stuck open and all pressure and oxygen aboard was lost as they came back to Earth.

And then there are the 14 who have been lost on Shuttle, as well as the Apollo 1 crew. Ad astra per abdura.

Stefanie Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2003, 11:18 PM:

Jon H:

In case you still wanted to know, according to the BBC, Kalpana Chawla was the first female astronaut of Indian descent to go into space:


Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian person to go into space. He went on a Soviet mission in 1984, according to this site:


Reading the bios, the thing that struck me was that Col. Husband tried four times to get into the space program. Dr. Clark also tried more than once. All of them worked their whole lives to be where they were. And all of them knew the risks, and were willing to sacrifice their lives in service to knowledge.

They will be remembered.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2003, 06:41 AM:

Recommended reading:

"Transit of Earth" by Arthur C. Clarke: A dying astronaut continues the quest for knowledge and the beauty of space travel while confronting his death:

"It is true: we all die alone. It makes no difference at the end, being fifty million miles from home.
"I'm going to enjoy the drive through that lovely painted landscape. I'll be thinking of all those who dreamed about Mars -- Wells and Lowell and Burroughs and Bradbury. They all guessed wrong -- but the reality is just as strange and beautiful as they imagined.
"I don't know what's waiting for me out there, and I'll probably never see it. ...
"And when my oxygen alarm gives its final 'ping,' somewhere down there in that haunted wilderness, I'm going to finish in style. As soon as I have difficulty breathing, I'll get off the Mars car and start walking. . ." (Ascent of Wonder, p. 321-322)

And for those in a bleaker mood, for whom the Clarke is just too cheerful, seeking objectification and distance from this tragedy, try J. G. Ballard's story "Cage of Sand" in which the protagonists watch the skies for orbiting spacecraft carrying dead astronauts. It is a vision of our dreams of space travel in ruins:

"Bridgeman stumbled back toward the dunes at the edge of the basin. As he neared the crest he trapped his foot in a semicircular plate of metal, sat down, and freed his heel. Unmistakably it was part of a control panel, the circular instrument housing still intact.
"Overhead the pall of glistening vapor had moved off to the northeast, and the reflected light was directly over the rustling gallantries of the former launch site at Cape Kennedy. For a few fleeting seconds the gallantries seemed to be enveloped in a sheen of silver, transfigured by the vaporized body of the dead astronaut, diffusing over them in a farewell gesture, his final return to the site from which he had set of to his death a century earlier. . .
"In a sudden access of refound confidence, Bridgeman drove his fist into the dark sand, buried his forearm like a foundation pillar. A flange of hot metal from Merril's capsule burned his wrist, bonding him to the spirit of the dead astronaut.
"'Merril!' he cried exhaultantly ... 'We made it!" (Ascent of Wonder, p. 670-671)

In considering the Columbia, I find myself vibrating between a Clarke moment and a Ballard moment, between Mary Kay's thought, that "there are worse fates in the world than to die doing something you wanted more than anything else to do," and a distanced, sublime appreciation of the magnitude of disaster.

One of my last thoughts before going to bed last night was the fear that some crazy terrorist group would claim responsibility; a very easy act of terrorism, to claim responsibility for an accident; and that we would be at war when I got up in the morning. (Imagine bin Laden popping up now to say "I knocked down your space shuttle! I'm in Badgdad. Come and get me!") But its morning now and from my quick peek at the NYT web site, that doesn't seem to have happened. We live in a time when paranoia seems the appropriate response; and appropriate paranoia gets in the way of many other important emotional responses.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2003, 06:59 AM:

Regarding Bob Webber's remark, "I am not capable of separating grieving from looking for causes," we should respect looking for causes as a form of grief, and an adaptive one at that. Looking for causes, however, cannot replace direct emotional expression.

David J. Greenbaum ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2003, 07:34 AM:

Tim Kyger raises a good point about my list. I really did think about making it longer, adding all the other dead cosmonauts and astronauts.

The thing is: I was born in 1975, and it's hard for me to honestly mourn people who died before I was born.

For me, Komarov, Patsayev, Dobrovolsky, Volkov, Grissom, White, Chaffee - their names are cool raised-relief bronze letters on the World War One memorial plaques in my school chapel.

But it's time to start a Gedenkbuch.

Darren ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 01:36 AM:

My sympathy goes to the friends and family of the American, Indian and Israeli astronauts lost in this terrible event.
I do wonder though whether the response in the blogging community and media is in perspective?
This week 7 were killed in a plane crash in East Timor, 8 were killed in a train crash in Australia and 40 in a train crash in Zimbabwe.
Why does the shuttle tragedy (and it is one) generate so much attention and these others do not?
Yes we should mourn the loss of these fine astronauts - but perhaps we should also try to keep some perspective. Just my observations - perhaps I'm wrong...??

Jan Vanek jr. ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 07:32 AM:

"'Merril!' he cried ex[ult?]antly ... 'We made it!"

This immediately reminded me of "God," he cries, dying on Mars, "God, we made it!" ending of Theodore Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea", a very exquisite and moving story, also suitable for reading now, at least IMHO (more jubilant even than Clarke), which I somehow never even once thought of myself in the last two days. (There is a pirated copy in Google's cache.)

Hm, is it posible that Ballard was deliberately referring to it?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 09:46 AM:

"Why does the shuttle tragedy (and it is one) generate so much attention and these others do not?"

Because that's how we're wired.

We respond to story, and we invest in particular stories. We aren't built to feel equal sympathy with every single story at once. That's just the nature of our consciousness, and there's no point to feeling guilty about it.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2003, 03:42 PM:

>Hm, is it posible that Ballard was deliberately referring to [Sturgeon's "The Man Who Lost the Sea"]?


Also, it seems to me that the name of the dead astronaut is probably not coicidental either; a bit of New Wave politics, the nature of which I can't quite fathom.

Also, I believe the Clarke is intended as a refutation of the New Wave attitude toward space travel.

Peter Watts carries this conversation into the present day in "Niche," which features characters named Clarke and Ballard.