Enthusiasm is building for the United State's re-entry into the manned space flight effort, a field left totally to the Russians since the space shuttle Challenger exploded over Florida on Jan. 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board.
A series of successful test firings involving the space shuttle Discovery has set the stage for the real thing later this month.Preparations for this launch have been long and tedious. The Challenger disaster was a graphic reminder that manned space flight is a dangerous pursuit and those involved do so in face of the ultimate human risk, loss of life.
A near disaster involving a Russian space mission last week serves as a chilling reminder that space flight is a life-or-death adventure and that often, mere seconds are all that separate success and failure.
For Utah, the pending launch of Discovery has great meaning. Many Utahns are directly involved in the shuttle program, building and assembling the rocket engines that carry the craft and astronauts into space.
The Challenger explosion had a debilitating impact on their future as many lost their jobs when program cuts and slowdowns followed.
For two years, the remaining workers have dedicated themselves to improving their product and doing all they can to get the U.S. safely back into space. That goal is now at hand.
Preparations for the impending Discovery launch have been slow and cautious. They have probably been the most closely monitored of any U.S. effort since Alan B. Shepard became the first American to ride the tip of a rocket into space more than 25 years ago. And, this is good. The safety of the astronauts should be the paramount concern in any U.S. space venture.
Hopefully the re-entry into manned space flight will re-kindle the sense of adventure that carried the United States to the forefront in space exploration when it landed the first manned flight on the Moon.
But Americans must realize there is an inherent danger to space flight. Challenger was not the first fatal accident involving the space program and, realistically speaking, it probably will not be the last.
Human beings are not perfect and there is no way to guarantee absolute safety. Those who have chosen to fly into space are well aware of the danger and risks associated with space flight. Even in the wake of the Challenger disaster, there is no shortage of Americans seeking to enter the elite astronaut corps. Waiting lists remain long and those chosen go through an elaborate selection process.
It is time to face the challenge to re-enter space and embark on a new age of discovery.