Manned space flight worth the risks

October 02, 2003|By E.J. "Jake" Garn

HUMAN SPACE FLIGHT is not a luxury. Nor is it a whim, passing fad or eccentric hobby. Make no mistake, human space flight is critical to the future well-being of the United States and, ultimately, the world. The continuation of human space flight is a necessity.

For those who accept that premise, it is vital that we get the space shuttle flying again as safely and as quickly as possible. Our very future may depend on it.

To not understand or acknowledge that Earth is but a stepping stone for humankind is to ignore history, reality and Manifest Destiny. Through age, natural catastrophe or by our own hand, life on Earth has a finite amount of time left. For the human species to go on, we must go out into the far and promising reaches of space. We will do this, or we will eventually perish on the stepping stone adjacent to endless possibilities and salvation.

The loss of Columbia and its heroic crew was tragic beyond the power of words. That said, "fixes and improvements" inspired by ignorance, politics or knee-jerk reactions are not the answer. To abandon human space flight or to scale back the program would be to dishonor the hopes, dreams and sacrifice of all who lost their lives reaching for the stars.

People can pretend otherwise, but for at least the next decade, the United States has only one way to get humans into Earth orbit -- the space shuttle. Nothing else is close to ready. Viable options are on the drawing board, but if we are serious about the exploration of space and the role human beings will play, then we must turn once again to the space shuttle.

Exploration, human space flight and preparing for a better future involve risk. Sometimes, great risk. Our nation is blessed with an astronaut corps that accepts that risk, understands the rewards for humanity and is anxious to strap itself back into the safest version of the space shuttle possible.

The American people believe in these astronauts and support their mission.

Technical and engineering problems associated with the space shuttle are being identified and will be fixed. On the human side, arrogance must be replaced with accountability. Opaqueness must be replaced with complete transparency. We owe our astronauts nothing less.

The Columbia Accident Investigation Board has released its report. We must respect its recommendations, implement the most critical and get our nation back into the business of exploring and conquering space.

Human space flight is not a luxury, and the People's Republic of China, above all others, seems to recognize that. The PRC is poised to launch its first astronauts, and with them launch potentially the most ambitious plan ever for humans in space.

They have their eyes on the moon, Mars and beyond. The question for our country is: Do we cede the future of human space flight, and the future in general, to them or another nation?

Our answer is coming. I only hope we choose to aggressively get back into the game of human space flight.

E.J. "Jake" Garn, a former Republican senator from Utah, flew on the Discovery shuttle in April 1985.

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