Journey to Forever

The Challenger Explosion
& Its Thunderbolt Lessons

It was the U.N. International Year of Peace, and ‘We Are the World’ was a big hit. On its second visit in a century, the Halley Comet was at its closest to Earth when a melting Chernobyl reactor caused the world’s scariest nuclear disaster. But right off the bat, 1986 marked the worst tragedy of the space age.
On January 28, the Challenger Shuttle exploded on live TV, killing all seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to become the first space civilian, but turned out to be the last teacher to be nationally mourned and eulogized in the U.S. It’s been downhill for educators ever since.
It was the Reagan era, and footage of him will probably be all over the airwaves. In a year of yet another flawed immigration law, his administration would be caught selling illegal weapons to Iran and arming the Contras to top Nicaragua’s democratic elected government.
The 30 years that now separate us from the Challenger explosion also equal the entire length of the Space Shuttle Program, which folded in 2011. Before that, another group of astronauts perished in 2003, when the Columbia, the program’s first space-worthy vehicle, tragically disintegrated while reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
These tragedies, along with the program whose many achievements are now part of our daily lives, look now so far back into the past, that even the ideas that inspired it seem remote. NASA doesn’t even have a comprehensive space plan currently running.
A MAJOR MALFUNCTION
It’s also easy to forget how close we all came to believe that space travel would be a new century routine, and many are quick to point that it was exactly that kind of sense of false security that led to the fatal errors causing the Challenger’s demise.
Perhaps. What’s for sure is that, without daring mistakes, we wouldn’t even have gotten to the Moon, and how uninspiring our age really is if our dreams nowadays have to come attached to a mandatory bargain price tag. Unlike weapons and conspiracy theories.
McAuliffe was slated to conduct the first high school science classes from space, to a Internet-less world full of teenagers who still cared about the subject. Instead, children along millions endured her spectacular dead, and that of her co-travelers, broadcast live.

TEACHING CHILDREN WELL
Such brutal awakening may have also marked, at least symbolically, the beginning of the end of Americans’ appreciation for the role of teachers and educators. It’s a curious phenomenon, promoted by half-witted politicians and their austerity policies.
Even though science and innovation was one of the tenets of U.S.’s ascension to its world power position, an entire generation grew apathetic and spoiled by the inventions that surround us. Science school grades have never been so low in average.
That’s probably why, instead of tele-transportation and weekly trips through the Solar System, we’ve got only a better iPhone (more)
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Read Also:
* Farewell Mission
* Waiting For Discovery
Continue reading

Ungrounded

Threat to Our Dream
of Living Among Stars

In the concert of nations, Russia holds little sway. That is, if one discounts its nuclear stocks and storied past as a fierce competitor with world power credentials, its influence is now mostly regional. That’s not how President Vladimir Putin sees it, though.
So, despite all the hyperventilation about its imperialistic moves against its neighbors, which it never really ceased to control, and the phony indignation displayed by U.S. and Europe, the world doesn’t really care much about it. Except when it comes to space.
Specially, in what the International Space Station, that marvel of global scientific cooperation, is concerned. Aloft for over 10 years, with a steady stream of technological achievements to boot, the flying lab has done more to world harmony that many a peace talk ever could.
That positive outlook is what has been seriously challenged this week when the Russian president issued a not-so veiled threat to bar the launch of American satellites by Russian-made rockets, and even ban the use of the station itself by the U.S. after 2020, which, to be sure, is a qualified ruse.
The ISS hasn’t been projected to be fully operational much beyond that date anyway, and only recently its decommission got a reprieve, as the bitter reality that it’s been reduced to become the only game in town, or rather, space, has sunk in for nations still interested in exploring it, including the U.S.
Which is also at fault in the whole thing, for the record, and not for trying to upset Putin’s campaign to destabilize Ukraine next door. But because the U.S. has withdrawn much of that once unwavering support to its own space program since the last Shuttle left the assembly line.

WORLD, WE’VE HAD A PROBLEM HERE
After the great conquests of the 1960s and 70s, NASA, the agency in charge of firing up the imagination of Americans still starstruck, has frankly come up with mediocre plans to follow up the Apollo, the Hubble, the Shuttle programs, and even the ISS, of which it was a crucial contributor.
Instead, lacking the funding and epic ideas needed to go ‘to infinity and beyond,’ to use Buzz Lightyear credo (if you have to ask…), after folding the Shuttle program, NASA decided to count on the aging and unreliable Russian Soyuz rockets, to lift its ambitions to orbit. It couldn’t couldn’t work.
Why? Haven’t you noticed where they all land, and eventually depart from? You’re right, Ukraine. That in itself granted Putin a free ride, and power over the aspirations of millions of Americans who wished we still had a first class ticket towards the future.
The space card was bound to be played also when a misguided bet was placed on the market’s ability to carry our dreams aloft, on board Continue reading

Space Odor

Fragrance Maker to Send People
to Space, Where the Smell Is Odd

Astronauts have struggled to describe the strange but unmistakable scent of space. ‘Seared steak,’ as one put it. No, ‘burnt gunpowder,’ said another. So odd it is, that NASA has commissioned a chemist to develop something similar, so rookies can get acquainted with it.
The out of this world odor can’t be covered up by any cologne. But AXE, the maker of a popular deodorant, is promoting the launching of its new fragrance by offering 22 lucky buyers the chance to fly aboard Lynx, a suborbital plane being readied to take tourists aloft.
As space is about to become the novelty du jour for those bored with the signs on the ground (and with deep pockets to afford taking off), we may also see a new era of space traveling being offered to common folk, via lottery. Just like it was done with the Titanic and we don’t mean to sound ominous here.
Until governments see a reason to invest heavily in space exploration, manned trips to outer space are about to get very rare indeed, and almost never for scientific purposes only. That could change tomorrow, of course, if there were suddenly the prospect of developing a super-duper weapon out there.
Funding wouldn’t be short for that, we’re sure. For all the great things you’ve read here, and our personal enthusiasm about the Space Age, it was never a question why it was being pursued, and what was the shadow program going along for the ride. We just wouldn’t let that take anything away from its overall  greatness.
That era, much to our chagrin, has come to a close, apparently. Or at least has slowed down to an almost grinding halt. For all the hoopla about traveling to Mars or to land a man on an asteroid, realistically we don’t Continue reading