Social Scientist. v 14, no. 156 (May 1986) p. 44.


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44 C.RJEEVAN*

The Rise and Full of the Space Shuttle

JANUARY 28, 1986 proved to be the blackest day in the history of human adventure into outer space. On this cragic'day^all the seven crew mertibers perished in the 25th space shuttle mission (Mission S\ -L) and the 10th flight of the space shuttle Challenger. This single accident left as many dead as the total dead in all the previous space travel accidents.

The explosion was indeed a disaster for the entire humanity. What adds to its tragic dimensions is that millions of children, watching on TV a school teacher Chnsta McAuliffe lift off into space, saw everything end up in a fireball. A unique experiment was in the offing in which the teacher in outer space was to give lessons to her students on the planet Earth. In restrospect her words : "If the teacher in space doesn^t come back to teach, something is wrong", holds an irony that no one can ignore. Her words were meant to assure her students that the newly acquired space fame would not keep her away from her students.

Space ventures have always had an element of uncertainty and risk. However, humanity had taken pride in this endeavor and had come to believe that every fors»eeable risk had been eliminated, every conceivable safety system incorporated and every possible accident scenario anticipated and eliminated. At least, that was the case till militarisation and commercialisation got the upper hand in space missions.

It is now left to the ashes of the shuttle crew to tell the tragic consequence of rapid militarisation and commercialisation of outer ^space. Hidden behind the triumphant story ofshutde flights, an all-time record of two dozen flights since 1981, is the not so widely known history of a space programme ridden with serious problems from its very outset. The manipulation by the powerful l6bby of Aerospace industry and the US Space Administration ensured that those facts never got much attention in the mass media. But as one ofthe investigative reports put it, "the question was not whether a major disaster could befall the shuttle programme but of when."

The first launch of space shuttle—the Columbia mission of April 12, 1981—came after a series of delays, causing severe anxiety to the US Space Administration. However, the delay did not lead to an early reappraisal of the programme. This launch took place after the computer monitoring the launch stopped the launch several rimes.

Delhi Science Forum, New'Ddhi.



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