AVmail: February 6, 2003

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Reader mail this week about the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.


Shuttle Columbia And Crew Lost

On a quiet Saturday morning, the very first day of February, 2003, a Texas weather radar scans the skies, looking for trouble but finding only clear and undisturbed atmosphere. Quite by chance, its probing rays chronicle the most alarming event of this young year, and etch into history what is -- to me -- the single most stunning of the many images logged of yesterday's Columbia disaster.

The vivid red slash we see here was, just minutes earlier, the proud pioneer of an elite fleet, the only reusable spacecraft that mankind has, so far, managed to construct from the materials to be found here on earth. We see in this image Columbia's final return to our Earth, two hundred thousand pounds and more of tough metal and fragile ceramic, the fruits of man's ingenuity and audacity, the blood of daring heroes and the hopes of a spacefaring mankind.

Very little of this debris will achieve repose on earth in any recognizable form. The ragged red streak bears witness to a vicious shredding the likes of which we've never before witnessed, executed by the thinnest imaginable wisp of atmosphere pushing back against the daring velocity of man's machine.

All died during this terminal passage: All the clever engineering, all the exotic materials, all the intricate instruments -- and each and every one of those who are counted as crew. Men and women, heroes all; who, I am convinced, experienced nothing at all of their tragedy, so swift was the event that swatted them from the sky.

All have died, save the hope that traveled invisibly with the craft. For hope, as we must prove to ourselves over and over again, will not perish at the hands of treacherous passage or the discouraging cries of naysayers. Hope is what it takes to sustain us through the despair we all share right now; hope is what will give us flight, once more and forever, back into space.

Tom Fox


Shuttle Columbia And Crew Lost

Interesting that stories contain facts about temperatures but the scale isn't mentioned. It's not a big deal but engineers usually work with Celsius while the public thinks in Fahrenheit and there is a considerable difference. A spike of 60 degrees F is not as significant 108 degrees F, to the public anyway, and one naturally wonders if there is a tiny bit of deviousness involved.

Frank Nelson

AVweb responds ...

You're right, we should have pointed that out. And given the rush to get information out right after the tragedy, I would suspect the mistake was unintentional. The scientists and engineers, pushed to give an answer, probably forgot to do the translation for the American media audience.

Kevin Lane-Cummings
Features Editor