Thursday, February 06, 2003


Alas, Columbia
I was laced up on a variety of painkillers and drugs when I awoke Saturday morning watching the disintegrating ball of fire that was Shuttle Columbia barrel towards Earth in its final descent. In the subsequent days, as I recovered from my ailment, I thought about what I would say about the destroyed shuttle and its brave crewmembers, who represented the best the country -- indeed, the world -- had to offer to mankind.

On February 1, the morning sky over my beloved Texas cried. A streak of brilliance burned into one of horror and despair.

We are a peculiar species. We have split the atom, cloned the sheep, taken to the air, traveled to the depths of our great oceans, cracked the sound barrier, walked the moon, defeated microbes, and have done so with such frequency that we deem it routine. Yet, for all the familiarity -- we do not choose when God comes to call us back.

In this world of irony, the high science of sending a shuttle to space, powered by what is essentially a controlled explosion of a variety of powerful materials, requires a high degree of faith in the Lord Almighty.

The space shuttle was, is, and will continue to be an imperfect means of sending our astronauts to space to conduct research. Yet, at the same time, no other country has the resources or the willpower to design an alternative, or even a competing design. Shuttles is what America does. It is an extension of will, of hope, and determination. It is one of the vessels that continues the long horizon of President John F. Kennedy's vision for the United States and space.

Space used to be the exclusive domain of the warfighters -- Cold Warriors and their wares. It was the realm of Sputnik, of the ballistic missile, the Moons Race, of SDI. And to a large extent it still is, with communications satellites, GPS, and other systems. Yet, the shuttle in its present manifestation is a laboratory in space. The seven brave souls who stood on station for 16 days did so with no hostile intent.

Their untimely, shocking deaths should not overshadow how they lived their lives. There will be a time, perhaps not now, perhaps not for months, where the shuttle will return to space, with all the requisite repairs.

Yet we must ask ourselves, and our leaders -- what next? What comes after Columbia? The Shuttle will in the coming decades fall victim to the things all machines suffer from, age, corrosion, fatigue. And couple this with the 1986 Challenger disaster over Florida. Two disasters in less than 20 years, unrelated as they may be, should have us the greater public asking more questions.

We owe it to the seven astronauts not only to fly again, but to ride the heavens in a different chariot.

"The true measure of a leader is his use of the word 'I'" -- Sean W. Mullaney (B'00)

Wednesday, February 05, 2003


ZoNotes was inactive the past couple of days because I was suffering tremendous pain triggered by illness. Which illness? I'll spare you the details.