View Full Version : Shuttle Disaster: Is It That Much More a Tragedy than A Military Helicopter Crash?
02-01-2003, 07:32 PM
Honestly, I'm not trying to belittle things. But on a regular basis, military aircraft crash, killing all the occupants. Both military aviation and space travel are dangerous pursuits. Is a shuttle crash worse? If so, why?
(I'm open to being convinced . . . )
Yeah, I think its worse, because the shuttle costs a hell of lot more than a blackhawk. Other than that, its no more tragic than any other loss of life....Which is tragic enough...
For one thing, every single experiment aboard the Shuttle is a culmination of years of work by dozens of scientists, engineers and technitians. And the effect of the accident goes far beyond the loss of this mission. After the Challenger accident, the Shuttle fleet was grounded for over a year and safety rules were tightened. This caused many high-profile science missions to get delayed or downscaled. For example, the post-Challenger safety review concluded that liquid fuel upper stage motors are too dangerous to carry on the Shuttle, so many interplanetary probes had to switch to less powerful motors, meaning less payload and increased flight time.
It's unfair to say that the accident caused the strict regulations (and the associated costs), but it is an indication that we hadn't been doing enough to insure safety.
It's also more spectacular. Seven people dying in a car crash--even seven astronauts dying in a car crash--doesn't have quite the (you should pardon the expression) impact as a shuttle explosion.
02-01-2003, 08:24 PM
Another point - shuttle launches are often televised. A crash most definitely will be televised. I counted seeing a video of flaming debris about fifteen times this morning. Similar to the 9/11 coverage - the astronaut's families (parents, wife/husband, children, siblings, AND friends) get to watch it over and over, on nearly every network for the rest of the day, and on the news for weeks to come. A military crash is just something to stick as a filler on page three below the fold, a shuttle crash is a banner headline.
02-01-2003, 08:30 PM
Besides what's already been mentioned, there's also the potential danger of rocket fuel that people have to be aware of and the sheer scope of the debris collection effort... so there's at least some practical reason for the attention, in Texas anyway.
02-01-2003, 08:53 PM
The tragedy is magnified because it cuts to the inner spirit of adventure. One can take the simplistic approach and calculate as seven lives lost, a few billion dollars of harware lost, yadda, yadda.
But as other have pointed out, the intangible values of the Shuttle in particular, the space program in general, and an inner drive in many of us to always want to see what's around the corner magnifies this tragedy.
02-01-2003, 10:12 PM
Col. Ramon, the Israeli astronaut, seems to have become the embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of his entire nation. And Dr. Chawla, the Indian-American mission specialist, seems to have been similarly regarded in her native land. Of course many Americans, although we become rather blase about it when things seem to be going routinely, take great pride in our own accomplishments as a spacefaring nation. So we're talking about a blow to the dreams of several entire nations and hundreds of millions of people (in fact, well over a billion).
02-01-2003, 10:54 PM
Maybe some wouldn't understand it, but the astronauts have always been heroes of mine since I was just a little guy, and the space program has always been a source of enormous pride for me. There are a lot of things I take pride in as an American, but the space program is at the very top of the list. To me it embodies some of the very best qualities of humanity, our insatiable desire to figure out the universe, our pioneering spirit, and our willingness to commit vast resources to surmount huge problems.
NASA seems to periodically be a favorite punching bag for congressional bean-counters and political pundits who carp about the lack of "practical benefits" returned for dollars invested, but those complaints always sound to me like the droning of little minds, with no poetry or vision in their hearts. It is people like that who starve NASA's budget every year and then rake them over the coals for every failure.
Is this any more tragic than the loss of seven lives in another vehicular accident? Yeah, I think it is. When I hear about a plane crash, I think "What a shame, those poor people," but it doesn't really hit home. I guess it's a failing on my part that I have become desensitized to ordinary tragedy. But when the Challenger blew up, and today when the Colombia broke up, it was far more personal. It involves the death of people who are among the best and brightest in the world, engaged in a pursuit that exemplifies the highest aspirations of our species. As tragic as that is alone, it probably means that similar future pursuits will face stiffer opposition from those people who don't realize the value of dreams and heroes.
02-01-2003, 11:03 PM
Hell, I'm not even an American, and *I* take pride in the space program. Humanity's reaching outside our planet is a noble and daring enterprise; it's one of the things that makes us more than just another animal. It promises hopes and dreams that cannot be matched by any other endeavour. I've often said that putting human beings on the moon is the greatest thing humans have ever done.
Of COURSE, the seven people who died on Columbia weren't any more important to their loved ones than any given seven people who die in auto wrecks. But a space disaster is a blow to our very highest aspirations as a race, too.
02-02-2003, 12:16 AM
I think RickJay nailed it.
02-02-2003, 12:18 AM
I think the extent of the tragedy has yet to be determined. If, as this Guardian article (http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,887236,00.html) article suggests, it was the result of cutting corners and neglect of workplace safety (a phenomenon not isolated to billion dollar government projects), then it is significantly more tragic and disturbing than any typical aviation accident.
02-02-2003, 12:34 AM
The time when I was growing up, the space program was moving into full swing. I remember being young and watching the television of the men walking on the moon. We landed the first craft on Mars and got real photos back. The first high rez images of outer planets were coming back from unmanned space craft.
The space program (and those involved) contained my first real heros. Glenn, Yeager, Shepard, Grissom, Armstrong, etc. These were the people I looked up to as a kid.
When there is a tragedy like this in the space program, it takes a bite out of me.
02-02-2003, 12:41 AM
Then there's the simple novelty of it all. A helicopter crash, while not an everyday event, is common enough to be less than front-page news.
A disaster involving a spaceship! Now that's a headline!
02-02-2003, 04:03 PM
Dog bites man is not news. Man bites dog is news. Newsworthiness is inversely related to how often something happens and directly related to how close to us the event is. First dozen GIs killed invading Iraq will be big news. A dozen GIs killed in WWII didn't even register on the scale. Thousands killed in Africa don't register as much as seven killed in orbit. In a few decades, when space travel is common and accidents are as common as road accidents, people will not even care.
02-03-2003, 06:51 AM
Even taking away the rarity of a spaceship having an accident, the people on board and who they were impacts people. I mean, a bus accident hits people as a tragedy. However, people are more upset by an accident involving a bus full of blind, HIV-positive orphans on their way to Disneyworld than just a Greyhound traveling from Toad Spit, Arkansas to Beaver Creek, Tennessee.
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