Response to Space Shuttle Loss

For me personally, it had been quite an exciting week for Science and Technology. Internal Microsoft conference, hearing Ray Kurzweil speak, dinner with other webloggers – I was pumped. But like every else this morning, I am deeply saddened by the news of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. The TV just reported that a senior US official has confirmed that there is no hope for the survival of the crew.

I have two immediate reactions beyond the sadness. First, I am in awe of the people who risk their lives in the pursuit of Science. So many of us reap the benefits of the risk and sacrifice of these heroes. It gives me a new perspective since the biggest risk of my job is carpal tunnel syndrome and my biggest sacrifice is time away from my family. Second, several reporters on the TV this morning are asking questions about the future of the Space program. Dan Rather pointed out that there are only 3 shuttles left and that the most recent one was built more than 10 years ago. In my opinion, the only tragedy bigger than the loss of the crew would be the loss of the space program itself. In the wake of a tragedy, there will be an inevitable slowdown. But tragedies like this mean more needs to be done, not less. How far has technology come in just the 10 years since the last shuttle was built? How much better and safer could we an orbiter built today be? From modeling to simulation to on-board instrumentation, Moore’s law tells us that computers are 1000 times faster today than they were when the Columbia was built 20 years ago. Let’s take that knowledge and put it to use.