Monday, July 25, 2005

Its five year mission, to boldly land...

On Tuesday, 26 July NASA plans the first Shuttle launch since the Columbia tragedy in February 2003, and everyone in NASA knows that if there is another major failure, the entire program will be terminated -- permanently. On this, the eve of the launch, it's time to admit, that the sole purpose of the Space Shuttle has deteriorated to demonstrating that it can orbit the Earth X number of times, and of course servicing the self-serving International Space Station. Scientific experiments? Discovery? Exploration? To boldly go? Not even.

As a former Navy fighter pilot, one of my most challenging missions was a "routine" night carrier launch and trap. Add in a bit of weather and it's among the most difficult aviation maneuvers known; pure hell. And the sad truth was that once we did launch off the carrier at night, there was essentially nothing to do. Air-to-ground and air-to-air missions were basically impractical. Sure you could do them, but everyone knew those night-time missions were of dubious military value. (Of course today's modern fighters have nifty features such as infra-red sensors and night vision goggles that greatly improve their night-time capabilities.)

But the old saw still rings true. As we used to say during the pre-flight brief for a night hop -- "our mission to land". Sadly, that is true of tomorrow's scheduled Space Shuttle launch, and an insult to the brave, talented men and women who will fly STS-114 . Tomorrow's Shuttle...Its true simply to land.

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