Space flight worth the risk – Collins

by Chris Bergin

The risks involved with space flight are more than apparent to all involved with NASA’s mission of returning the Shuttle fleet to flight – none more so than STS-114 Commander Eileen Collins. However, confidence is high with regard to the buzz word surrounding Discovery’s launch – safety.

Lessons learned following the loss of Shuttle Challenger in 1986 on STS-51L saw a long period where the Orbiter performed safely prior to the loss of the flagship Columbia in 2003, a point not lost on Collins.
“We have flown a very safe, extremely safe, Space Shuttle program since the Challenger accident; it was 17 years between Challenger and Columbia,” said Collins. ” The program I felt was run very, very safely .  I have very high confidence in flying the Shuttle orbiters, (and have a) very high confidence in the people, in the program.” 
However, Collins went on to comment that there will always be risks associated with manned space flight
“We fly knowing there’s a risk, and the risk that’s probably going to get us, is something that’s unknown. We try to understand as much of it as we can. I would say to take risks, but take calculated risks that are studied and understood.” 
When asked about how her family dealt with such risks, Collins replied
“Well, my family very much supports what I’m doing.  My parents have never once asked me to stop doing this job.  They know how much I believe in what I’m doing and they support the overall purpose of human exploration of space.”  Collins added that her two small children also “…understand how much I love what I’m doing and it’s exciting for them, too …so the way I see it is we’re all in this together.”
Indeed to those concerned, the strength of the desire to explore space appears to heavily outweigh the cost of the risks involved. The Commander compares space travel to the level of exploration which our ancestors undertook 500 years ago in traveling across the Atlantic Ocean by sea.  Collins even goes so far as to suggest that space travel is in fact much, much safer that those great explorations of the past. “We need to carry on the human exploration of the universe that we live in.”
NASA’s return to flight this year therefore marks a monumental step towards the future exploration of space.  It is part of a step by step process which will eventually lead to the completion of the space station and a journey to the moon and Mars.  Returning to flight not only reflects the tenacity and courage of space pioneers of the past, but will also help the world to gain new knowledge for the future.
“The whole history of the space program is part of moving on and making life better for people on Earth” noted Commander Collins.  “To me, it is very important for humans to get off the planet and go do these things.”

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