Look, I know that "writeup" does not mean "reply", but SharQ's writeup above really pisses me off, and I can't let that be.

He asks, "Do we really need to explore space?" The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is a resounding "yes!" There is a tremendous amount of scientific research on topics from shear-dependent viscosity in fluids to material science including the production of aerogels, which would be impractical or technically impossible to carry out outside the microgravity environment in orbit. But even apart from that, it is important to explore, just for the sake of exploration. 14 billion dollars a year would a small price to pay for the opportunity to just go and see what's out there... the research is a bonus.

What really makes me angry, though, is SharQ's insinuations with respect to weapons systems. For one thing, it's a hell of a lot easier to build a nuclear weapon with all its failsafes and keep it secure than it is to bring the shuttle back from orbit. We're talking about an aircraft frame with an aluminum skin and a thin protective coating, hurtling through the atmosphere at 12,000 miles per hour, reaching temperatures of 2500 degrees, and nevertheless maintaning some degree of aerodynamic control to guide the craft to its landing. It's a hard thing to do right, and an impossible thing to do perfectly every time -- NASA builds in all the safety margins it can, but at the end of the day, it's a dangerous job to be an astronaut, and that didn't stop any of the crew from wanting to go. But what's really offensive about SharQ's loaded nuclear-weapon question is the fact that he's engaging in the same sort of activities he accuses the media and the Bush Administration of -- spinning a tragedy to advance unrelated causes. There is no logical connection to be made between the dangers of traveling in space and the safety of a nuclear stockpile; that part of the writeup is simply offensive rhetoric.

Look, NASA still serves a purpose in carrying out scientific research in orbit and, hopefully, eventually manned missions to other planets in the Solar system. Their safety record is fantastic, considering the complexity of the missions with which NASA is tasked. It would be absurd to pass judgement on the entire space program, simply on the basis of one tragedy.

I've gotten a lot of feedback on this writeup... it was mainly just my personal reaction to the fear that the space program would suffer horribly as a result of this accident. Challenger set space exploration back 10 years at least; some programs, like the manned missions to Mars, have never recovered. Thanks to those who have expressed support. My worst fears were at least temporarily allayed, as Bush has stated that he is committed to continuing space exploration.

I feel, on a deeply personal level, that space exploration is a worthwhile goal. Who didn't want to be an astronaut when they were growing up? Some part of me, I think, still does. Remember that it was these people's lifelong dream to go into space; they died living the dream. To me, that makes it all feel somehow okay.