Paying the price - an individual response to the Columbia disaster
Mon, 3 Feb 2003 16:02:09 +1000 (EST)
Paying the Price
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first controlled, powered
flight by a human.
Looking back at the history of atmospheric flight, we learnt how to do
it by paying for our knowledge and understanding in human life many,
many times. Despite not fully understanding the aerodynamics and
structural dynamics involved in flight and cognisant of the dangers, men
and women willingly climbed into aircraft, many with the express purpose
of trying to find out more, to understand more.
As a result of this, I teach gliding students how to deliberately spin
and recover a glider - and conduct spins by myself and with friends for
recreational purposes. Some eighty years ago, the spin was regarded
almost as a demon, winged and clawed, lurking hidden in the air ready to
pounce on an unsuspecting aircraft and smash it and its crew into the
This cost in human life as payment for knowledge continues today in
aerospace and in particular where the envelope is most stretched - as it
is in space flight. Compared to the toll exacted in payment for our
knowledge of atmospheric flight, it is a tribute to the engineers,
pilots, crews and organisations involved in space flight that so few
people have died for the knowledge and understanding we have so far
Everyone understands just how dangerous space flight truly is at
present. The concentrations of energy involved are enormous and leave
little, if any, margin for error. There is no doubt that all astronauts
and cosmonauts are all too well aware of the risks; yet they cannot
resist what John Wyndham so aptly called 'the outward urge'.
Talking with my many friends who are involved in aviation, this same
urge exists in all of us, but there are very few of us who have not
experienced moments of great fear whilst following the siren song into
the sky. Given the chance to fly on the shuttle or ride a Soyuz rocket,
I suspect that most of us would grab that chance with both hands and do
so knowing the risks involved.
As a teeneager in the 1960s, glued to every aspect of aerospace, one of
my most lasting memories, is of the Apollo 1 disaster. As a young man in
the 1970s I watched transfixed, as the Apollo 13 astronauts returned
safely, thanks to theirs and others' ingenuity aided by a chunk of good
luck - a luck which failed a number of the Soyuz cosmonauts that
decade. My mother talks about the airship disasters of the 1930s. In the
1950s there were the Comet crashes. The Challenger disaster marks the
1980s, the Concorde crash the 1990s and now Columbia marks the early
years of the 21st century.
I have no doubt that, as a race, Homo Sapiens Sapiens will continue to
pay in part in blood for knowledge. Throughout our history, this has
always been the case: the need to understand, to know burns that
strongly in us. The story of Icarus spoke to this truth thousands of
years ago and continues so to do.
Isaac Newton saw far, because he stood upon the shoulders of giants.
All of us see so much further than the limited horizons of the earth
because we stand on the structure of knowledge built and paid for by the
Robert Hart firstname.lastname@example.org
Strategic IT & open source consulting +61 (0)438 385 533
Brisbane, Australia http://www.interweft.com.au
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