(I just realized how annoying an entry this long will look in people's Friends views, so most of this entry is cut. The summary won't make much sense unless you read the whole thing, though.)
When the Challenger blew up, I was in my first year of college. I was on my way to class in the courtyard my dorm was on, and a dorm neighbour ran up to me and told me. I was very saddened, but not really shocked or surprised. Going into space and coming back involves tremendous forces delicately balanced, hugely complex machinery, and extremely large quantities of high explosives. It's not safe. I think at that point we were starting to think it was - the networks weren't always carrying launches live any more, and with no spectacular failures in the shuttle program it was starting to fade into the background of the national consciousness as communication satellites and the Interstate highway system had. We were starting to think that low-Earth orbit was just another place to go to work (albeit a very prestigious place, like Hollywood or the Senate).
But it's not. It's very dangerous, and it's very expensive.( Collapse )
So I guess I worry that this tragedy, like the much greater tragedy of September 11, will be used as justification for making my country a little more secretive and a little less open. For giving the military-industrial complex and the spies and the appointed officials a little more power, and giving scientists, journalists, and elected officials a little less. If crewed spaceflight has a purpose, it is to celebrate the human spirit of adventure, curiosity, and exploration, of shared endeavour and individual courage. Secrecy, hierarchical control, and warmaking do not do that well, and I hope the space program is not overwhelmed by them.