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sat 01 feb 03

+ events like today's invariably make one contemplate the nature of life and death.

i remember the apollo 1 disaster. i had watched virtually every space event as a child, and the impact of hearing that some of my heroes were killed, burned to death, unable to escape, horrified me for a very long time. fire and ashes. flag-draped coffins and horse-drawn carriages.

challenger occurred when i was working in manhattan. i remember somberly taking the train back to princeton, walking from the dinky straight to the university chapel, and sitting there for a good long time honoring all the individuals who were lost. fire and brimstone. pointing fingers. hearings.

columbia, ironically the very shuttle in which we worried incessantly about loose tiles, broke apart very likely because of a compromise of those very tiles. "zipper effect" has already become a new meme on the networks. fire and tears. the sky is crying silver tears, washing the american heartland in tinsel.

tom wolfe, in 'the right stuff,' characterized the early astronauts as being mission-focused ... "i've tried a, i've tried b, i've tried c ... boom." we can imagine those last seconds, think the thoughts we imagine would be running through their minds. did they have enough time to be scared? think about those they're leaving behind? just a second of time to comfort each other in the face of doom?

there are a lot of ways to die, some 'good,' some 'bad.' these astronauts lost their lives in action, doing something they loved. in the midst of our horror at their fates, their sacrifice deserves respect, and honour. they gave everything they were, their entire essence, to a pursuit they loved. to call them mere 'patriots' is to diminish them. they, as others before them, went out in a blaze of glory.

i have been seeing some considerably bigoted posts this afternoon, which i feel is wrong. space travellers are a special breed; and they come from all nations:

"the first day or so we all pointed to our countries. the third or fourth day, we were pointing to our continents. by the fifth day we were aware of only one earth."
- sultan bin salman al-saud

"for the first time in my life i saw the horizon as a curved line. it was accentuated by a thin seam of dark blue light our atmosphere. obviously this was not the ocean of air i had been told it was so many times in my life. i was terrified by its fragile appearance."
- ulf marbold

"from space i saw earth indescribably beautiful with the scars of national boundaries gone."
- muhammed faris

"a cosmonaut, should he eat bread somewhere near mars baked from wheat raised in a space laboratory will, believe me, think of the grain and flowers gathered on earth!"
- dumitru-dorin prunariu

but i'll end this with an american, in tribute:

"earth that beautiful, warm living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of god, and the love of god."
- james irwin

as if nationality matters to an astronaut! and if earth looks that fragile, how much more fragile are a handful of lives? as with september 11, the world has suffered a loss. not just america.

i would finally posit, that those who fly through space are enhanced humans, seeing beyond the commonplace. we have lost seven of these enlightened souls, and it is appropriate that we all shed tears for them. all nations, all peoples.

+ sunset, actually much larger and more spectacular. i was in traffic, so this was the best i could capture:

sunset, santa fe, new mexico, february 1, 2003.

+ an old foreigner tune came to mind, 'star rider.'

+ 10:30 a.m. mst: cbs on television claims to have nasa sources indicating that there was a 'loss of telemetry' in the left wing before breakup. that left wing was, coincidentally, hit with some sort of insulation from a booster rocket during takeoff, and dismissed as trivial. apparently the pilot also communicated a 'loss of tire pressure', possibly on that left side. if the tiles, which shield the airframe from the heat of reentry, were compromised by that hit during takeoff, structural integrity in that wing would have been compromised by that high heat of reentry. the pilots slew from side to side as they reenter, if i remember correctly, trying to assist in the bleedoff of speed. high stresses. only speculation, right now. likely to be completely wrong.

+ and ... i just heard the news about the space shuttle columbia. godspeed, all of you.

+ february 1, and it's already 50+ degrees. i'll have to take a photo, to record for posterity, the fact that the irises and the daffodils are coming on like gangbusters.