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Saturday, February 01, 2003

Columbia Thoughts-I've been away from the computer since 9AM, so I'm just now writing on the Columbia disaster of this morning; I haven't had a chance to dive into the details. Eileen and I were running errands and making a mini road trip up to Kissimmee this morning, ignorant of what had gone on. About 11:20, we were going through a shopping center and wandered into a gift shop with cutsie shirts and souvenirs when we heard the radio of the store start taking about waiting for a 11:30 NASA press conference. It took them about five minutes to explain that the shuttle had broken up about 200,000 feet about East Texas, with the wreckage falling over the area near Nacogdoches (where Eileen went to grad school for a year, piquing her interest). They stressed that it wasn't terrorism; shooting down something that high at Mach 13 would give the US military pause, let alone using what a terrorist could snag off the black market. Nothing like hearing about and dwelling upon seven deaths to make the mood somber. We headed back shortly thereafter, listening to NPR break the story down as best they could. They're liberal but they're thorough; this not being a political topic, they did very well. They even mentioned that the Israeli astronaut had been on the Iraqi nuke plant raid back in the early 80s and that India was mourning the loss of an Indian lady astronaut who had come to UT-Austin for college and stayed, joining NASA. We had a lower-key afternoon, going through a museum in Lake Wales and taking in My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding (a little unedifying in parts, but cute-how many "it's a good movie, but..." are out there these days?). An interesting side point-the stores on US-27 in Haines City about 1:15 hadn't dropped the flags to half-staff, but by the time we got into Lake Wales around 2, the Florida's Natural OJ plant was flying flags at half staff. A press conference we heard on the radio about 4:00 before the movie describe that they were losing instrument readings on the left side of the shuttle, pointing to some sort of structural failure on that left side (my amateur engineer’s guess). If seven Marines died in a helicopter crash at Camp Lejune, it would be a page three item. Space is different; the space shuttles are the flagships of American technology and the astronauts are seen as a special class of hero; even with the seemingly mundane nature of modern spaceflight, we see them as heroes. The NPR coverage had the Israeli astronaut talking about meeting some Holocaust survivors in the US for whom the concept of an Israeli astronaut was mind-blowing. It's an open question what this means for the manned space program; they'll go over the wreckage with a fine toothed comb and figure out how the shuttle came apart, holding up the program for a time while they trouble-shoot and retrofit. Meanwhile, we'll pray for the families of the astronauts. However, don't forget to pray for the Iraqi people and the soldiers who are probably going in shortly to kick out their current government; pray for sane heads from their leaders and ours as well.

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