Twenty-four years later...
Challenger day has snuck up on us once again, and this one seems especially significant because this is, presumably, the last Challenger anniversary on which we can still look forward to more shuttle missions. The space shuttles are slated to be retired from service, one by one, as they complete the last five missions over the coming year, with the last mission to launch no later than September.
When I try to imagine what the Challenger crew would say to this, a few things jump to mind:
1) "You're still flying those birds? They're 18-26 years old, y'all!" (Columbia would be the oldest, at 29, if it hadn't broken up on re-entry in 2003.)
2) "What do you have lined up to fly next? A super cool new space ship, right? I mean after all, it's 2010..."
By the way, is it weird that I am imagining dialogue with people I never met who have been dead since I was 13? Not really, because I think sometimes the dead can help keep us honest about what we do next. These seven people believed in the promise and coolness of spaceflight so much that they were willing to risk their lives for it— I wouldn't want to have to explain to them that we haven't decided to get out of the spaceflight game so much as we've just sort of let it peter out without any clear decision-making or fanfare. That's lame, right? If we decide it's not worth the money any more, fine (well, not fine, but...you know what I mean)—but we should take responsibility for making that decision. If we want to do something else now, something cheaper (and let's remember that the entire driving force behind the space shuttle system in the first place was its cheapness) that's fine too, but we should be honest about that too.
Also, NASA seems to be selling off some space stuff and I'm trying to figure out how to raise some quick cash.