Columbia, revisited

After a little more reflection, and particularly after reading Ken’s comments, I’m still feeling a little distanced from what happened, but I can certainly see that this is more than just the death of some people I didn’t know.

Indeed, every man’s death diminishes me. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. And in that sense, I tend to feel much more affected by the horrible disasters that happen in Africa every day and are a bullet point, or not even mentioned at all, in the western press. On the day that the WTC fell, killing more than 3000 people in the worst disaster on US soil, more than 5000 people died in gas line explosions, and subsequent fires, in Nigeria. One was not worse than the other at the time, but one has clearly had wider repurcussions in the lives of every living human being.

So when a space vehicle crashes, what are those wider repurcussions? Last week, I was doing Apache training, and one of my students was connected with NASA via her work, and she remained confident that the space program will not lose funding, and will not lose steam. Accidents happen, and this is not the end of the line. Finding out why it happened, and not letting it get in the way of future discovery, is the goal of the moment, as evidenced by the detail being given to going through the evidence even at this very moment.

The death of one individual is not more tragic, or less tragic, than the death of another. Every time an individual dies, be it spectuacularly, or quietly at home, we are all affected in some way, and those close to the person will grieve whether the person was a prince or a pauper. But some events, like this one, are genuinely tragedies of national, and perhaps international scale, because of the lasting effects that they will have on policy, discovery, and our future.

Ken, thanks for your comments, and for putting things into a sensible perspective.