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Columbia Represented 'Best of What We Are'

February 04, 2003

The space shuttle Columbia represents the culmination of hundreds of years of human thought and the aspirations of thousands of people. It is the sum of who we are, made possible by us and no other living being that walks, flies and swims on this Earth. On Saturday, there were seven human souls lost. This is truly a tragedy. But we mustn't forget that an eighth life was also lost when Columbia itself fell apart and descended from the heavens. Columbia was a collective life of those who created it and touched it on every mission. It represented the best of what we are and what we do.

I find it horribly ironic that we have not learned our lessons from the past. Seventeen years ago, under President Reagan's ambitious plans to arm space, we diverted billions of dollars of resources, for which we have nothing to show except the wreckage of the Challenger. It was a time of tax cuts and massive spending for the military, and scant little for programs such as NASA, schools and research. We have a similar situation today, with a myopic leader who hopes to complete the work that Reagan never completed. It may be time to end the dreams of dreamers, until we can dedicate the proper resources for this noble but dangerous endeavor.

May they rest with angels.

Bill Neuman

El Segundo

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I sat there watching things fall out of the sky. One could nominate a long list of "pretenders." And still, there was nothing as profound, nothing as American, nothing as God-like, as the Magnificent Seven falling from the sky.

Donald A. Sellek

Manhattan Beach

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My father fought side by side with American forces in the battles of Bataan and Corregidor in the Philippines in World War II. He survived the Death March and lived long enough to tell me how much he admired and respected the courage of the Americans "who will give their life for a cause."

Once again, the heroes of the Columbia have reminded me of my father's appreciation for the people of this country. This is really the home of the brave. I am honored to be one of them.

Danilo F. Lamila

Los Angeles

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"Columbia, the oldest and heaviest of the four existing shuttle orbiters, was nearly mothballed at least once, as NASA tried to limit the swelling cost of the shuttle program. Even as the fleet has aged, NASA has had to grapple with a series of budget cuts.... " This is quoted from "Aging Fleet Was Showing Its Years" (Feb. 2). Think of the billions of dollars being spent on the pending war on Iraq and then think of how those billions could have been used on the space program. Makes me sick.

John Concilio

Garden Grove

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It is a simple truth of the modern age that machines break down, technology becomes obsolete and money is needed to maintain the safety and efficiency of any vehicle. The tragedy of the Columbia, the loss of seven courageous astronauts, is only compounded by the fact that their deaths may have been preventable. For years, Congress has been warned about replacing and upgrading NASA's shuttle fleet. By withholding funds and slashing budgets, Congress has tried to reach for the stars on a shoestring.

Congress, by turning a blind eye to its own commissioned reports and warnings, must be seen as negligent in its duty to protect our best and brightest in America's quest in space.

Andrew Pritzker

Los Angeles

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The tragedy was not an accident. It was a crime -- a crime of budget cuts, malfeasance, neglect and denial by Congress, the White House and assorted NASA bureaucrats, who failed to heed the safety warnings posted by concerned experts over the last few years. How can they justify a budget that "corrected for inflationary dollars, is 40% of what it once was," the launching of a 22-year-old shuttle or a reduction in maintenance staff from 3,000 to 1,800? They cannot.

In the coming days, America's political leaders will offer up prayers and condolences to the families of Columbia's lost astronauts. They would be well served to offer a few prayers up for themselves, for God only knows, it was their own neglect that killed seven of this world's finest citizens.

Phil Koch

San Fernando

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Are there any Washington government officials driving, or being chauffeured in, 20-year-old used vehicles?

Ben Silverman

Seal Beach

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While my heart goes out to the families of the Columbia astronauts, this tragedy creates the opportunity to reevaluate the overall space program and how the government allocates billions of dollars. Many Americans can no longer afford health care, the unemployment rate has increased, many states are on the verge of bankruptcy and the White House administration is steadily expanding the national deficit. What should be the priorities? Well, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to do the math.

Greg Jenkins

Long Beach

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