Editorial: Value of space flight remains despite tragedy

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 3, 2003

The tragic end to the Space Shuttle Columbia took many Americans by surprise. Not because they don’t understand the risks of manned space travel, but because many didn’t even realize the shuttle was on a mission.

The space program has largely faded out of the public consciousness in recent years, as the imagination-inspiring lunar program 40 years ago gave way to what seemed like more routine missions &045; shuttling cargo to the international space station, repairing the Hubble telescope, performing experiments that most people wouldn’t much understand.

But even if it did not grab headlines like it used to, the space program was still on the cutting edge of science in America and the world. The kind of technology required to send people into space was often applied to other industries on Earth, and there’s no doubt in the scientific community that breakthroughs made possible by Hubble, for instance, have advanced our knowledge of our solar system and our universe.

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It will be necessary for America to reexamine its manned space program in the wake of the second shuttle disaster in less than 20 years. But there should be no thought of pulling back or stopping the program. The science is too valuable.

As NASA life eventually gets back to normal, this tragedy should serve as a continuing reminder of the risks our astronauts willingly face. Their bravery and resolve are without question. The seven who died Saturday should be remembered as heroes who gave their lives high above the Earth for the betterment of those below.

Tribune editorials represent the opinion of the newspaper’s management and editorial staff.