© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2003
It is certainly tragic that the lives of seven exceptional people were lost in the Columbia disaster. But the answer is not to stop or curtail the shuttle program. That type of surrender would have stopped millenniums of humanity's greatest pioneers, from Socrates to Galileo to Columbus to the Wright brothers and numerous others, from pressing forward to extend the reach and the knowledge of humanity.
It is also naive and off the point to suggest that unmanned space exploration can suffice.
In the first place, the vision of men and women traveling beyond the confines of earth is, in itself, one that excites the highest ideals of mankind -- to explore, visit, touch and understand what is "out there" toward the stars.
In the second place, the time may well come someday when it is imperative for the survival of the species that people can occupy other planets and moons.
The third and most practical point I offer as a recently retired engineer working on advanced computer systems and automation: There are still now, and still will be for years, tasks, observations, interpretations and actions that no "robot" or software or computer will be able to perform. This is especially true for dealing with the unexpected when it is inevitably encountered. While the shuttle (as does any system) certainly needs to be continually reviewed to fix any flaws and reduce the likelihood of future calamities, the answer is not to stop or reduce the program's support, which would only hamper adequate review and improvements.
If America's manned space flight program were to be stopped or curtailed, history will eventually mark, that the world's most powerful, wealthy and technologically advanced nation flinched and failed future generations of mankind. It "went to bed, and pulled the blankets over its head" to try to escape the "demons" of occasional setbacks. That same history would remark that it was a step down the slippery road toward a national attitude of defeatism and a relinquishing of its position as the best and the brightest hope of mankind for continuing the advance of civilization on Earth. Let us all hope that our leadership does not take us down that slope.
-- C.W. "Ron" Swonger, Palm Harbor
To ask men and women to go into space aboard an antiquated shuttle fleet, maintained by an overworked and undermanned ground crew, supported by annually shrinking budgets is criminal.
The budget for the space program is one-tenth of 1 percent of the defense budget. President Bush appointed a budget director instead of a visionary to run NASA; he counts pennies while we stoke the war machine. Whom do we blame? Whom do we put on trial? The government? No, ourselves.
The human race is on a cosmic journey aboard a celestial ocean liner and we're too frightened to leave the cabin! We are a shallow people who are more concerned with bigger trucks and smaller phones. Space travel is an expensive endeavor, and we need more money for the peaceful exploration of our future.
Every American should take this loss personally. And every American should strive to honor the men and women who have the courage to put on a space suit, and we must save a place for every child who wants to wear one in the future.
-- Joseph Ranalli, St. Pete Beach
My husband and I have lived in Florida for more than five years and have watched many a shuttle take off from our home with great pride -- pride for our nation and the people involved. We've also waited for those shuttles to come home, listening for that sonic boom.
We are very saddened by the tragedy, and our hearts go out to the families of the Columbia crew. We must look to the future, we must continue, or these people's lives won't mean anything. We think they meant a lot. Please, everyone must pull together in this time of sorrow and not belittle everything that's been done.
-- Millie Lopez, Spring Hill
Re: Loss of men and women in the space shuttle.
How sad for all those families. All those lives lost and for what? Why are we choosing to investigate the mysteries of outer space, when man has not even learned to live at peace in this big beautiful world God gave us? Why does he need to know what's in outer space? We could do so much more for mankind if the astronauts stayed here and we used those funds to help the less fortunate.
Why can't we just live and enjoy what God has given us here on earth and stop sending our loved ones into the unknown, where we have no business going? None of these families will ever be the same, since their loved ones were taken, and what was accomplished by their deaths?
-- Fran Glaros, Clearwater
Ever since Project Mercury, the first man-in-space program, was initiated in 1958, we have basked in the fame and fortunes of our space program. It has been so successful that we have become blase about it. It is a program unique to this great country and its pioneer spirit that we as a people most certainly can be supremely proud of those singular accomplishments recorded thus far.
The personnel committed to each and every aspect of space research deserve the thanks of the rest of us. But to those crewmen and women, who actually step aboard the space craft, knowingly aware of the potential risks and hazards, a mere thank you, is not enough. Nor is a parade, or having one's picture placed on a stamp. It is in our hearts where we must hold them dearly -- both individually and as a country. They should be dignified, and revered majestically by the citizenry, for their dauntless courage in face of the known perils.
-- Orfeo Trombetta, Seminole
Re: NASA shows right stuff with candor on "Columbia," Feb. 3.
Howard Troxler's column should be required reading for every public information officer, at every level of government. I don't think that we have ever seen such a forthcoming and open response from any government agency.
-- Herb Karkheck, Seminole
It is obvious that the underlying cause of the space shuttle disaster this weekend was massive underfunding. The space agency has been trying to limp along with 25-year-old equipment and duct tape and baling wire.
Imagine the results that making a shift in focus from trying to plunder the Mideast to more completely supporting NASA and our progress into space would make. Instead of spending billions of dollars on conflict and destruction, imagine the impact of spending that money on furthering our knowledge of space exploration, cooperation with other nations in the International Space Station, and the expansion of future options.
I would like to see President Bush abandon his hideously expensive vendetta against Iraq and spend that money funding NASA. I want my tax dollars to go toward cooperation, not conflict.
-- Michael Otto, Oldsmar
Even in the midst of our mourning over the lost Columbia astronauts, the antinuke crowd dares to protest NASA. I find it disgusting that these antinuclear, antiprogress fear-mongers fail to show some respect for the Columbia astronauts at this somber moment in time. I see no connection between the Columbia re-entry disaster and any launch issues associated with nuclear power.
To exploit this Columbia tragedy for a totally unrelated political argument demonstrates only the disrespect and aloofness of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power group.
-- Robert C. Gotshall Jr., Palm Bay
Shame on Tampa and Mayor Dick Greco for the decision to not cancel the Gasparilla parade in respect and grief for our seven brave astronauts. What have we become when so many can still drink and revel in delights and intoxication while the rest of the world is aware of the great sorrow we face?
Shame on you, who forget so easily the lives sacrificed for our betterment. They died for us and they deserve better than what was offered. This was not an act of terror. We didn't have to show our resolution to others by going on. This was a tragedy, a national tragedy, and Tampa at Bayshore showed us another face of the city, one that I hope will never be revealed again.
-- Stella Pagano, Clearwater
How could the entire Gasparilla event have been allowed to continue on schedule?
The loss of the shuttle and its crew is a tragedy to all the world. Families and friends will grieve over the loss of these heroes who devoted their lives to betterment of humanity. The space program, which offers promise to our future in many ways, has been seriously wounded. Their efforts should be respected by more than a moment of silence.
There is something wrong with a community that cannot delay a meaningless party to mourn such a major loss. Simply a few seconds here and there is no way to say thanks to these intrepid explorers. Nor is getting drunk, bearing breasts, fawning over fake pirates, football heroes and collecting cheesy beads.
Gasparilla is a fun and popular event, but if this tragedy is not worth a simple delay in this celebration, what level of tragedy is?
-- Jim Bullard, St. Petersburg
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