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Home arrow Opinion arrow COLUMBIA'S LEGACY MUST CARRY ON



America understandably has come to take NASA's space shuttle program for granted. But what many of us have come to view as routine is anything but. Sending a vehicle into space and bringing it safely back to earth is a momentous undertaking and carries extreme risks, as we were sadly and shockingly reminded Saturday when the space shuttle Columbia, the oldest of the shuttle fleet, exploded upon reentry into the atmosphere.

As tragic as the loss of the seven astronauts was, Americans should take heart in and be proud of the fact there are men and women who accept the risks associated with space flight in order to further the cause of science.

THAT NASA hasn't had more accidents and deaths is a credit to the scientists and engineers who make the program run. The shuttle program has operated with such success that it has allowed the public to assume that sending up a shuttle, linking with the space station and returning to earth isn't much different than hopping a jet for a cross-country flight. And with Russia selling seats on space flights to millionaires and pop stars, no wonder people assume four decades of experience has removed much of the danger.

Saturday's Columbia disaster reminds us that danger rides with every shuttle flight and with every astronaut. They put their lives on the line every time they go into space.

AMERICA MUST NOT let Saturday's tragedy slow the advancements we have made in space. Families of the astronauts killed Saturday issued a plea:

"On January 16th we saw our loved ones launch into a brilliant, cloud-free sky. Their hearts were full of enthusiasm, pride in country, faith in their God and a willingness to accept risk in the pursuit of knowledge — knowledge that might improve the quality of life for all mankind. ... The legacy of Columbia must carry on for the benefit of our children and yours.''

PRELIMINARY INDICATIONS are that a problem with the thermal heat tiles may have played a role in the shuttle's demise. Engineers will find the cause and do everything possible to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Space programs carry risks that astronauts and their families are aware of and must live with. The loss of the Columbia crew is a tragedy, and our hearts go out to the families of the astronauts killed. But those astronauts would not want the tragedy to bring a halt or even a slowdown to a program that over the years has been very successful — and safe, especially considering the risks involved. As the families said, the legacy of Columbia must carry on.


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