Ad Astra
Volume 15, Number 2 March/April/May 2003

Launch Pad

Hail Columbia
By Dan Brandenstein

The tragedy of February 1st, once again, highlights the risks and difficultly of exploring space. I think most people, including astronauts, think that the launch and ascent phase present the greatest risks and it probably does when you consider the high temperatures, pressures, rotating equipment and amount of energy imparted into the orbiter. However, when one realizes that all the energy has to be dissipated prior to landing, it becomes obvious that the entry phase presents significant risks with an equally small margin for error or malfunction.

As I write this, six weeks later, the root cause of the accident is not yet known, but there is an enormous effort to find the cause, fix it and return to flight. I have been extremely impressed with the full range of the investigation; the cooperation of many government agencies, the focus of the leadership and the dedication and expertise of the many people involved. Based on the caliber and dedication of all involved, I am confident that the root cause will be determined, appropriate corrective actions will be taken to return to flight as soon as possible.

The crew of Columbia, Rick, Willie, Kalpana, Laurel, Mike, Dave and Ilan, were dedicated to the goals of space research and exploration and gave their lives in pursuit of those goals. They had successfully accomplished all the research objectives and I am sure were very satisfied with their accomplishments prior to the entry tragedy. This was evident from the mood of the crew during the early phase of the entry that we have seen on the video recovered from the wreckage. This accident reaffirms the fact that in space exploration the margin between success and failure is very narrow; and as has been the case so many times throughout history, great people have paid the ultimate price in furthering the cause of research and exploration.
Now, more than ever, is the time for the membership of NSS to step up our activity in support of our space exploration goals. We can do this by actively participating in the three R’s … Recruiting, Responding and ‘Riting. Recruiting new members makes NSS a more viable voice nationally. Washington decision makers are especially attuned to the size and visibility of organizations such as NSS. Responding to an opportunity to be seen, heard or counted. NSS Headquarters has a number of recent initiatives that require a response to increase our visibility and support. I am sure many of the chapters have a wide variety of activities that could benefit from a proactive response from NSS members. Now is a critical time to ‘Rite any and all Washington decision makers, especially the ones that count on your vote. I am confident that all of our members will rise to the occasion to actively promote the NSS vision and goals.

Finally, I want you all to know what an honor it was to have been your President for the past four years. I accepted the position for two reasons, first I truly believe in continuing to push the boundary of human knowledge and understanding of the universe in which we live. Secondly, during all my years in the Astronaut office, I was amazed by the vast support of the Space Program across America, but by the very low visibility of this support. It always seemed to me the vast support came from the moms and dads of America that were not reactive in nature. I hoped that my participation with NSS could draw out some of that grassroots support for the Space Programs. Hopefully, I helped in a small way to accomplish that. Unfortunately, my “real job” requires additional time over the next couple years such that I didn’t feel I could adequately participate in a leadership role. However, I am totally confident that NSS will make great strides forward in the future. Our new Executive Director, Brian Chase, came onboard in December running at full speed and hasn’t broken stride yet. He has an outstanding background for the position and a wealth of great ideas to take us forward. Additionally, the dedication and foresight of the officers, Executive Committee and Board of Directors will direct NSS to bright future.

With every member’s active support and participation and the outstanding leadership, I am confident that NSS will do more than takeoff (a slow gradual climb) … it will LAUNCH (a rapid ascent to great heights) … Ad Astra!

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