The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Wednesday, February 05, 2003


I haven't said much about the shuttle. On Sunday Rand Simberg said he was surprised that Andrew Sullivan hadn't said anything about the Columbia tragedy; Sullivan replied that he couldn't think of anything to say. I concur; unlike Simberg I have no special knowledge, and once you utter the obligatory "that sucks", what else is there to say?

I remember the day 17 years ago when the Challenger exploded. I was in my dorm (Owen Hall, at Purdue; I was a freshman) and Todd from two doors down said "The shuttle exploded!" I said, "Shut up, it did not." Then I found out he wasn't joking.

It took NASA two and a half years to launch another shuttle. In the interim I had gone to work for NASA, as an intern at the Langley Research Center near Hampton, Virginia. During my third work term, in September 1988, the shuttle went up and all NASA took time out to follow the launch live.

I can't really get into the stirring calls for continuing the shuttle program, a la Instapundit: "82% said the U.S. should continue manned space flights. 71% expected that an accident such as the one that occurred Saturday would happen sooner or later. Count me "yes" in both categories." The space shuttle is a vehicle for shovelling money to aerospace companies, and the sooner it is grounded the better. Of course whatever replaces it will probably be just as bad.

My most interesting project at NASA was when I wrote a Turbo Pascal program on a XT to drive a laser disc player and touchscreen. This was to be a reference to teach space station denizens how to perform simple maintenance tasks. Nearly 15 years later the station -- another hideous money hole -- is still being constructed. I wonder if my contribution ever made it into orbit.


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