“Because of the tragic events of Saturday, our space program will evolve stronger and safer than ever before (as it did after the Challenger explosion 17 years ago),” he said.
Astronauts, based on their training and experience with flight and high speed aircraft, know the inherent risks of space travel. “The faster and higher you go, you magnify these risks,” he said.
Despite the best efforts of everyone involved in the program, human error — either in design, manufacturing or a miscalculation of risks — resulted in the shuttle’s loss, he said.
Ron Westbrook, manager of Barwick LaFayette Airport, said he joins the nation in mourning the loss of the Columbia astronauts, but is grateful only 17 astronauts have died over the past four decades of the American space program.
He installed fiber optics equipment at various space centers during his stint with the Air National Guard. Westbrook, whose background is in engineering physics, retired as an engineer with Tennessee Valley Authority.
“One of the things astronauts have to be concerned with (during re-entry) is temperature,” he said.
If the ceramic heat shields failed, the failure would have been so sudden and catastrophic that the astronauts probably would not have known how severe the problem was and could not have aborted their descent even if they had, he said.
“I don’t think that it needs to stop the (space) program,” Chickamauga Mayor Ray Crowder said. “I think it needs to go on. There are too many benefits that we reap to do away with it.”
“I’m sure they’re going to find the cause of it,” Crowder said. “I feel like it was just one of those things. I just think something happened that probably couldn’t have been prevented.”
“It’s a disaster, and I hate it,” LaFayette Public Safety Director Charles “Dino” Richardson said. “I hate it for the space program, and I especially hate it for the families of those astronauts. That’s a devastating blow.