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Ira Kortum:Columbia: not an accident, not forgotten

Stupid, stupid, stupid. Someone referred to the Columbia disaster as an accident, an accident! To all people who like to play victim when something goes wrong and don’t want to take any responsibility for it or for themselves, don’t refer to this as an accident. Don’t you dare.

With all the checks and double checks, it’s always for the oversight, the overlooked or ignored reason that “accidents” happen. But let’s look at the word “accident” for a second shall we? Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines the word accident as (and this is the Law’s definition, not the social application of the word) “an unforeseen event that occurs without anyone’s fault or negligence.” When there’s an automobile collision, everyone calls it an accident. Not human error or human negligence, but an accident. Let’s get one thing clear here, a true honest to goodness accident is almost like an act of God, you can’t really prepare for it, plan for it, discover it before it occurs, it’s just about unavoidable.

Case in point #1, the Challenger tragedy. Anything, when used over a period of time, wears out, needs to be replaced. It’s a simple fact of life. And yet no one bothered to notice, check or correct the fact that an O-ring for one of the separating rocket booster (SRB’s) had almost completely worn through. But that is nothing when compared to case in point #2: what happened this last Saturday with the Shuttle Columbia, when it was actually seen that something was wrong during lift off, as “sixteen bits of foam insulation from the shuttle’s external tank were seen hitting the left wing.”

This occurrence NASA referred to as “not likely a problem.” Now this issue, originally looked at as nothing to worry about, is being looked at as the possible reason for the loss of the Columbia.

What?! Now it’s to be believed that the foam may have knocked some of the ceramic tiling loose (the tiling is what keeps the ship from burning up during re-entry), thereby making the ship unable to properly re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. If this is true, it is the grossest of human errors, not an accident. Didn’t they have time while docked at the space station to simply go out and check? Any anomaly, no matter how small, is never left to chance when it comes to space; at least that’s what they taught me at the Space Academy Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Regardless, this incident could of and should have been avoided. No one has the right to refer to the loss of those seven brave souls as anything as simple as an accident. This is what comes of giving contracts to the lowest bidder, focusing our resources on war and the acquirement of oil and personal wealth instead of investing it in (gasp) schools, knowledge and personal growth – in effect, the future itself. What the hell happened to us? Does anyone remember the idea of America and Manifest Destiny, and when the gaze of our people went from looking West to looking up at the stars? So here’s to those who haven’t forgotten, and so won’t be forgotten, the crew of the Columbia, thank you, wherever you are.