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The bitter lesson of space exploration – in fact lesson of exploration in any age – is the historical reality that lives are inevitably lost. The tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia should be viewed as a setback, not a roadblock.
America's space program and ongoing exploration beyond the confines of earth with its accrued benefits for humankind are too important to even tacitly consider anything but forging forward.
Of course, we mourn the loss of the Columbia Seven. As with all astronauts who voluntarily go into space, though, they understood the risk of reaching toward the stars. They would want the work for which they gave their lives to move ahead.
Still, critical answers must be forthcoming from the many investigations that will be undertaken. Foremost, of course, is why did it happen and how can it be fixed?
Beyond the nuts and bolts, though, looms the need for the federal government to evaluate its theoretical and monetary commitment to NASA. At the same time, NASA owes the American people a concise explanation of why space exploration is essential to the nation's future and why it is worth the cost in both dollars and, potentially, more lives.
Yes, KSL joins all Americans in mourning the loss of Columbia's valiant crew. We also call for a redefinition of the public purposes of space travel at a time when the question on most people's mind is "Why?"