02 February 2005

NASA, fate, and a question

It occured to me not long ago this evening that today, February 1, is the second anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia.  When I think back to that Saturday morning, I remember that I was listening to the radio.  There is a rock station in Chicago that selects a certain year every Saturday morning from 8-12 and features music only from that year along with short notes on movies, news, etc.  That morning the featured year was 1985.

I was sitting at my dining room table eating a bowl of cereal and reading the paper, not fully paying attention to the radio, when I heard the DJ mention the loss of the shuttle Columbia.  Right away I cringed, but for a different reason that the rest of the nation; I assumed that someone at the station had made an error in research and had included the explosion of the Challenger in the news wrap up for 1985.  They compounded the error by getting the name of the shuttle wrong as well.

Twenty minutes later, after a song from 1985, the DJ came on and said "the news we reported about the shuttle Columbia earlier is not a mistake from 1985, it's actual, it happened today."  I turned off the radio, turned on the television, and spent the next few hours watching the news.

I felt something almost right away that morning that I still feel today, the thought that at least the accident happened as the shuttle was returning to Earth.  The seven astronauts who died got to spend sixteen days on a mission in space.  They were able to experience the rewards of their training by spending that time in orbit.  I would think perhaps that the families of those astronauts found some comfort in that fact. 

Here's something that I'm sure most people know: there have been three fatal events involving NASA astronauts.  

Here's something I'd bet most people don't know: the three events occurred within six days of each other on the calendar year.

Besides the shuttle accidents, the only other fatal event involving NASA astronauts was the fire aboard Apollo 1 that happened on January 27, 1967 as the capsule sat on the launch pad.

The shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986.

Columbia disintegrated on February 1, 2002.

The odds on that have to be significant, I'd think, enough that if I were the director of NASA Iwould suggest that all non-essential work be stopped during that time period every year.  I'm not trying to be a smart-ass.  I'd shut NASA down for a week and pay tribute to the 17 astronauts that have died, and remember that it is our responsibility now to ensure that the number never increases.

Call me crazy if you wish, but if there is one thing I think I have learned in life so far, it is not to tempt fate.

As I was doing a little research on this to make sure that I had the dates right, I recalled that when I was in grade school and the shuttle was still in development, there was some type of accident in an orbiter on the launch pad, and I am fairly certain that one or two people died.  They were not astronauts, and I'm quite surprised that I can find no information on that anywhere.  If you "Google" anything about the Challenger, Columbia, or Apollo 1 you get thousands of hits, yet I can't find anything about this event.

As you might imagine, I am curious to know exactly when this happened.




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