Death in Space

Dave Winer says it better than I ever could:

The Shuttle astronauts were so lucky! They had amazing lives. They went to space. They were scientists so they knew it was risky. And they were lucky because they died quickly without much time for pain and long goodbyes. Yes it’s sad they died. Yes. But it’s also great that they lived.


Kevin's picture
Kevin on February 4, 2003 - 12:59 Permalink

… and given the chance, they’d be on the next flight.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 4, 2003 - 13:06 Permalink

Should I die in a fiery wreck, believe me… my last thoughts will be this really sucks and I should have stayed home. I am sure the “astronaut as hero” is a Boomer thing.

Kevin's picture
Kevin on February 4, 2003 - 13:28 Permalink

Is that a “typical” glimpse into the heart of a lawyer? :-)

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 4, 2003 - 14:21 Permalink

Or a statement from an honest and logical mind?

Alan's picture
Alan on February 4, 2003 - 14:48 Permalink

[Well, really, Kevo…slagging a lawyer…again…how new…] We don’t know the motivations of these seven folks — I am sure they were all really great, loved their families and were engrossed in the cause of science but they got on a mode of transportation with a now apparent 1/60 chance of total fiery failure. What erks me is that they get to be somehow more important. On Sunday Report their 7 deaths bumped the 10 deaths of Canadian teens in BC. I thought that was a bit sick.

I sure, however, it was really the Boomer comment that got to you, though, so I will eleaborate. I was in class when the TV on the steel stand was wheeled out every few months to watch space stuff, I bought my Revell spacecraft models and clipped and saved the news articles (the green ink for “MAN ON MOON” the Globe and Mail is a good one) but what else was going on at the time? Vietnam, half a dozen Central American oppressions of democracy, Watergate, etc. The space race is a circus the US government rolls out to distract. Ronnie R. pushed for the Challenger launch in 1986 for effect in his State of the Union, George W. wants to go to Mars because unemployment is coming close to Canada’s and we got in the whole rang-dang-doo to keep up with the commies. Need those people be up there to run the experiments? Probably not. Or are they themselves an experiment? If the latter then on the mission side, it is a result within the expected range. Personally, for the families and for the folks themselves who probably would have had some short time to know things were going off the rails, it was a nightmare — but that does not make them heroes, just folks that died while assuming a very high risk of death.

Christopher Ogg's picture
Christopher Ogg on February 4, 2003 - 15:53 Permalink

I’m with Alan, though the sentiment “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori” is an awful lot older than the Boomers. It does seem to skip generations — it went out of favour during the First World War and the Boomers prolly tend not to buy into it because of the Vietnam War. But we did romanticise the astronauts. Tom Wolfe is excellent on that in “The Right Stuff”.

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on February 4, 2003 - 16:12 Permalink

Thank you google

dulce et decorum est pro patria mori: It is sweet and glorius to die for one’s country.

Ritchie Simpson's picture
Ritchie Simpson on February 4, 2003 - 16:56 Permalink

O you crazy nuts you’re so cynical

Kevin's picture
Kevin on February 5, 2003 - 02:40 Permalink

slagging” is perhaps a bit over stated. My state of mind (at the time of comment) was more like, ‘hmmm, everyone has to die at at least once and dying in a flaming fire ball while hurtling toward Florida at mach 6, 20 miles above the earth, is, well — frankly, *my kind of exit*. Quick, spectacular, and very very worthwhile (the original goal, not so much the exit).

But, the world does indeed need people (lawyers among them I should think) who do not feel this is a useful or desirable way to go. If I had a chance to fly the shuttle, and I was told before the flight “50% chance of catastrophe” I’d bound up the stairs. I think I’d start to hesitate when the odds of not surviving went over 90 percent.

So, not slagging… perhaps more like a different perspective. Live free or die I suppose and to me “free” is to be unbound by anything real or imagined.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 5, 2003 - 12:40 Permalink

Well, that is fine, Kev — but I think that is just the point. If you want to do something high risk calmly knowing the risk, then when you suffer you are just playing out the risk. Not in itself a hero. What might make them heroes is their dedication to science but not were they each the pinnacle in their fields? The Isreali astronaut was a heroic jet fighter pilot to his nation in part for destroying the Iraqi nuclear plant in the early 80’s. Did the fact that he died as he did in anyway alter that? Did he fly other missions I or Canada might be less comfortable with from a forgeign policy stance? Going beyond personal admiration to the recognition of some kind of archetype should be a lot more measured and rare than TV tells us. I’ve always admired a guy who was a short media blip. I was in London near Kings Cross when it burned staying with a pal. A few nights before, I was in a pub next to Islington fire station and had a number of pints with some firemen. During the fire one of their number dove down into a flaming surface stairwell. Seconds later three people were seen to scramble out. He was not one of them. He died after getting others to the top. I don’t know why I feel different except that a few days before he was not a national figure, maybe just a guy at the table at a pub.

To-El's picture
To-El on February 5, 2003 - 12:57 Permalink

Once again our recovering lawyer speaks wisdom. Stoppit please. You are destroying an image. :-)

Kevin's picture
Kevin on February 5, 2003 - 13:04 Permalink

Alan, why does this *sound* like an argument? I totally agree with your point but I think you’ve missed mine; if one thinks they are heros they are to that person, if one does not think so they are not to that person. All I’m saying is people who do this know and accept the risks including the likelihood that they will be consumed (hopefully in a flash) by their choices — it’s just a quicker form of death than a couch potato who’s being consumed by his/her choices, except these astronaughts are making choices which are exciting, and if their bosses are doing their job, in the service of humanity. To me they are heros if heros exist at all.

Alan's picture
Alan on February 5, 2003 - 13:21 Permalink

I think I agree with you, Kev, but not the TV designation of “certified media heroes” — it may sound like a cop out but if there is a personal reason why these folks actually are heroes to you, that is really no different.

Maybe I’ve just grown through sharing with you;-)

Alan's picture
Alan on February 5, 2003 - 13:22 Permalink

Just to be clear I mean no different to my relationship to the idea of hero, that is…

Wayne's picture
Wayne on February 5, 2003 - 14:34 Permalink

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys. Let them be lawyers…”

Interesting assessment of what is a hero, especially in this time of hero-worshiping rapists(Tyson), shoplifters(Ryder),and drug addicts(Courtney Love). For a short while after 9-11, we seemed to have things brought back into proper perspective, but before long, we were caught up again in the importance of “reality” shows stars and things like Susan Sarandon’s opinion on the economy.

My hero is someone you never heard of.

Eaglethorpe's picture
Eaglethorpe on February 5, 2003 - 16:18 Permalink

Just because you don’t like what’s currently popular doesn’t mean you have proper perspective…just means you’re not a teenager anymore.
And maybe envy them, their whimsical frivolity?
Or anger because they don’t think right properly like you.
Maybe you live in a constant 9-11 state of mind?

Oliver Baker's picture
Oliver Baker on February 6, 2003 - 21:01 Permalink

Re: Winer’s sentiment, I find it refreshing after most of what I’ve heard and read, but I have a couple problems with it as a philosophy of death through dangerous activities. First, as any math teacher or public health expert can tell you, the ability to act rationally based on probabilities is not intuitive or common. Second, gamblers know the odds and yet I suppose they’re not very happy when they lose. Third, I doubt that the gamble these astronauts made was “to get to see Earth from space once.” It may have been “to get to see Earth from space once and to live to tell my friends and family;” or it may have been “to get to take trips to space for a living.” A kid may grow up wishing to be a crane operator and in the meantime become an expert on the statistics of accidents at construction sites. That doesn’t mean that when she becomes a crane operator and drops twenty tons of cement on herself at the end of her first day on the job that her dream has come true.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on February 7, 2003 - 16:35 Permalink

I do have my own perspective, and that is not blurred by my head stuck in the sand. You are right, Eaglethorpe, I am too old to know it all. But, I do not blame the teenagers, they have been influenced by your generations image-hyping…anything to sell and make money. Envy? No, I am glad to have grown up in my time. Angry, no…just have a perspective. 9-11 changed everything. Come up for air and see for yourself. (And I like Lenny Kravitz, too!)