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Touching Space January 27, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Hardware, Online Tools.
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app1  Twenty years have passed since the Challenger exploded in the blue Florida skies. For some, that moment stands out solid and still, a moment frozen in memory as profound as the news of the assassination of a president. For me, this week reminds me of other tragedies, one on a Florida launch pad almost forty years ago and one over the skies of Texas three years ago.

The fiery death of Apollo One’s crew snapped giddy supporters of manned space travel into the harsh reality that space exploration is dangerous and its potential for disaster very real indeed. At that moment in time, a divide in the community of scientists became apparent. One group saw the necessity for putting humans in space, another saw that robots and remotely manned machines could accomplish astounding science.

If there is some solid middle ground, I have sought to find it, admiring the science and detailed measurements of satellites and admiring the courage and human need to reach out to touch the stars and witness the surface of a new planet or moon in person. My position on the middle ground was validated when a team of astronauts repaired the Hubble Space Station. Human labor in a hostile environment fixed a tool that extended the range and depth of our view of the cosmos.

My middle ground crumbled beneath my feet when the shuttle Columbia tore apart three years ago this week. I was about to introduce our keynote speaker at the annual Teaching and Technology Conference when someone ran down the aisle to tell us the news. The news struck me as hard as a slap and I still recoil a little at the idea of moving to new frontiers off our world. I will leave those dreams of manned exploration to younger and less chastened dreamers.

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