FIRST PERSON | It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since seven of our finest explorers departed the surly bonds of earth. I was only 10 at the time, and I couldn't quite grasp the gravity of the bright streaks across the Texas sky that played on a constant loop on the television.
From my station in life, the tragedy was indeed sad, but impersonal. Time has provided context, and now, as a student-engineer striving to enter the manned space industry, I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the Columbia and its final crew.
As an engineer, I can't help but wonder how much different that cold February morning back in 2003 would have been had the images of a chunk of foam flying off the external tank been evaluated more seriously. Engineers are not ones to assign blame, rather cause, as it is infinitely easier to explain why the world functions as it does rather than to pinpoint a person or group of people responsible for tragedy.
To think that a few back-of-the-envelope calculations should have raised red flags, and to know that a few computations could have saved seven lives is disheartening, but in this disaster, we have learned the steep price we have paid to explore.
I have no doubts that the crew of Columbia died in pursuit of what they knew to be humankind's calling. They would want us to keep exploring, pushing into our final frontier, beyond the surly bonds of Earth. Columbia is a sign that our existence is fragile, and that we must take the greatest care in our greatest adventures, but it is also a symbol that we must push forward. Exploration is an inherently dangerous venture; we can only guarantee safety in those places we have long ago mastered.
The astronauts stepped up to the calling, not because it was a safe job, but because it promised to push forward our horizons. Danger was a real thing, but not an impedance. The Columbia crew would have perished not in fear, but in pursuit of exploration. Ad astra per aspera.
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