Hard to believe it’s been 35 years since we lost the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew, in what turned out to have been a tragically avoidable accident. Challenger commission member Richard Feynman’s finding that the SRB O-rings’ lack of resiliency at low temperatures was known and raised as a concern by technicians, but not acted upon, gives us a hard-won lesson to remember. It’s a lesson that SpaceX seems to have internalized, in the form of Elon Musk’s reported insistence that any SpaceX employee at any level should be empowered to directly raise concerns that could delay a launch, and I hope others in the space industry have taken that same lesson to heart. Space is an inherently dangerous business, and there’s no need to make it artificially more dangerous by adding avoidable organizational problems to the mix.
Bill Whittle pointed out on last night’s Stratosphere Lounge that the anniversaries of the Apollo 1 cabin fire (January 27th, 1967), Challenger explosion (January 28th, 1986), and Columbia‘s disintegration (February 1st, 2003), which account for all NASA spaceflight fatalities, all happen to fall in a 10-day span on the calendar. I feel a debt to and tremendous admiration for those who knew the risks and went anyway, putting their lives on the line to advance the frontier of human knowledge, exploration, and achievement. Bill Whittle’s magnificent 2003 essay “Courage” (copy here) is about the most beautiful, poetic, and outright exhilarating piece I’ve ever had the privilege of reading about why we do such things. Take a few moments and give it a worthwhile read.
We must learn from the horrors of the past and never forget what produced and enabled them. We must say “never again” and show in our actions and unwavering defense of human freedom that we mean it.
A stirring reminder from the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum:
Holocaust survivor Paul Kester (Kleinstrass) to future generations: “Be tolerant. Don’t hate. Protect the freedoms that you enjoy. I wish you well.”
I don’t know how clearly more recent generations are getting this message, but I remember well a junior high school field trip to the L.A. Holocaust Museum, the heart-wrenching privilege of getting to meet Holocaust survivors and hear their stories, and ample periodic coverage of the Holocaust from there through high school. It was one thing that L.A. public schools did a decent job of during my time there, and these experiences impressed upon me the vital importance of exercising courage in the face of evil, while leaving me with a sorrowful yearning that we, the U.S. and the rest of the world, had not managed to do more to stop this horrific brutality sooner.
UPDATE: Looks like today’s (Tuesday) entertainment was a tank pressure test, which SN9 passed, according to Elon Musk. Also per Elon, completion of an FAA review appears to be one of the necessary conditions the SN9 flight test is now waiting on.
Wednesday launch attempt appears unlikely, given lack of scheduled road closures, and winds gusting up to 38mph. Thursday or Friday attempt, perhaps?
Freedom is a tremendous and precious inheritance. To develop our potential, thrive in it, and pass it along to each successive generation is our highest calling. I write here to give my thanks, and to seek ways we can cultivate the resilience, independence, courage, and indomitable spirit necessary to sustain a culture that cherishes liberty.