Space Shuttle Atlantis has landed safely. *whew!* I’m getting more nervous about shuttle missions lately. In part, it’s the greater focus on all the things that could go wrong. In part, it’s the realization that you know, the shuttle fleet really is aging.

But mostly, I think it’s the fear that, given reactions to the Columbia disaster, our nation may be only one disaster away from writing off space—or at least humans in space—entirely.

Speaking of Atlantis, the Bad Astronomy posted a fantastic photo by Thierry Legault of the shuttle and the International Space Station passing in front of the sun!

NASA Returns to Flight as Discovery Reaches Orbit.

Rather than getting my hopes up, I’ve been taking an “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach to this. And now, we’re finally back in space!

Here’s hoping the shuttle will be able to tide us over until the next-generation ship is ready. IMO we should have had another type of launch vehicle five years ago at the latest. That way Columbia never would have gone up, or if it had, we could have kept the newer fleet flying and just grounded the shuttles.

On a more personal note, I’m reminded of the time I went to see a shuttle landing. My mom took me and my brother out of school for a day, and we drove up with a family friend to Edwards Air Force Base where we set up camp with a zillion other people on the dry lake bed. We slept in the car, and the next morning everyone tried to get as close as possible to the chain link fence that marked the edge of the public viewing area.

Somewhere in a closet, I’ve still got a roll of slides from that landing. Of course, they had us so far away from the runway that I could barely catch the shuttle with a telephoto lens. I made an 8×10 print of the best slide in my grandfather’s home photo lab, and the shuttle was barely 1½ inches. [Update: I finally scanned the photos.]

And the shuttle that I watched land? It was Discovery, and it was the first flight since the Challenger disaster.

Now if someone can just convince NASA to give Hubble its 120-zillion mile checkup instead of just throwing it away…

It seems NASA is hoping to resume shuttle flights by December 18.

Interestingly, this is one day after the release of Return of the King. Coincidence? … Yeah, probably.

On one hand, I’m glad we’ll be back in space soon. Even if it takes until next year, at least they’re trying to get going again before we lose too much momentum. On the other hand, I’ve heard nothing about plans to design a replacement launch vehicle – something the manned space program desperately needs.

Well, the critics have started coming out, claiming that manned space flight isn’t worth the risk and space exploration (at least with human crews) should be written off as a bad idea.

How can you look up at the night sky and not think it’s worth it?

Or is it because so many of us live in cities where you can’t see the stars for the lights and smog?

Are we so afraid to dream?

Are we so afraid to fly?

I’m reminded of a slogan I’ve seen at science-fiction conventions:

The meek shall inherit the earth. The rest of us will go to the stars.


Okay. For all you holier-than-thou smarty-pantses out there, here’s a question. If an average-sized couch cushion were to hit a brick wall at 15 mph, would you think at first glance that the brick wall might be damaged?

I thought not.

So leave me the FUCK alone with your judgmental snippetiness about how YOU would have aborted the launch (let alone how you would have even seen the insulation incident they only saw on video LATER) and how could I even THINK that maybe Mission Control didn’t think they had sufficient reason to effectively waste a large chunk of what little funding they had because “human life was on the line.” Human life is on the line every time you get in your car, but that doesn’t stop normal people from driving to work. (No, I’m not normal. Thanks for asking.) Human life is on the line every time a new medication gets sold to any demographic outside who it was originally tested with, and it’s a hell of a lot more people at risk, with a lot less knowledge of what they’re getting into, than the seven people on board the shuttle. Yes, it was a tragedy. Yes, it was technically preventable. And yes, hindsight is 20/20. So, as I said, get off your high horse. There’s too many of those around lately and it’s getting hard for a good objective fact-finding scientist to breathe.