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The View from the Kitchen Window.


We are a risk-taking species. For ages we have looked beyond our borders and wondered what was there. The first inhabitants of the Americas came from somewhere else. How did they get here? Certainly not in big SUVs. They probably walked, they may have used boats. They took risks. We will never know how many set out and how many didn't make it. It was long ago and they wrote no books.

We know more about the Eurpoeans who started out in the late 1400s. They took risks, there were casualties. They did not let the risks stop them.

The American pioneers set out across a continent in wagons and on horseback. We know of the risks they faced, they left records. They kept going in the face of tragedy and hardship. There was no federal agency overseeing the safety of those wagons. No health board looked at their camp kitchens or water holes. They went anyway. Some made it, some did not.

We are on the edge of space. Now there's an unfriendly place to explore! Out There is truly hostile territory, and there's no nice atmosphere to shield the space traveller from radiation, no air to breathe, no ground underfoot. What a vacuum would do to a fragile human body I do not want to know. Anyone venturing Out There has to take everything with him and has to be in an airtight vehicle that can resist a meteorite.

The astronauts who leave the planet ride a huge bomb; we have seen what happens when something goes wrong; the Challenger demonstrated that too well. Looking at that tragedy we learned it was preventable. We did not abandon our move toward space but we did slow down. The shuttle fleet was repaired and we went back.

Now we are faced with another tragedy, the loss of Columbia and seven people. They knew the risks they faced, they took them anyway. Some people are born explorers, they have to leave the safe confines of Earth and venture forth. The first pilots who flew into the skies were their spiritual ancestors. I will celebrate that these heros lived, I will mourn their passing in such a tragic accident, I will honor their achievements.

We must find out as much as we can about the cause of this accident and we must insist that the shuttle be made as safe as possible. We learned from the Challenger tragedy and moved on. We must learn from the mistakes made in this mission.

If we stop, wring our hands and pull back it will be a waste: of potential, of effort and of ourselves. There is no activity that is risk-free. Space exploration is never going to be safe, but neither is just living. Life, enjoy it, live it, because you won't get out of it alive.

We must keep on moving toward space. It is the future for mankind.

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