File this under: completely heartbreaking. Today is the 10-year anniversary of the tragic Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, and NASA just revealed that the seven crew members who lost their lives on board had no idea their shuttle had been fatally damaged and that they were most likely facing imminent death. Didn't they deserve to know the truth?
That fateful day, NASA ground control suspected that, during the mission’s takeoff, the shuttle had sustained damage that was serious enough to put its ability to safely return to Earth at serious risk. But there wasn't anything they could do -- they had NO WAY to make repairs. So NASA had a truly wrenching decision to make: let the crew in space know they were very likely going to die -- either upon reentry or, if they couldn't make it back, out in space when their oxygen eventually ran out ... or keep the astronauts in ignorance and hope for the best.
Ground control decided not to tell them and, of course, their worst fears became a devastating reality. On February 1, 2003, the Columbia Shuttle exploded on reentry and disintegrated over Texas, taking the lives of all aboard. Augh, what a horrible dilemma!
I can certainly understand NASA’s thinking in keeping back the truth from their crew, and I can’t really say that I blame them ... but I do believe it was the wrong decision. Of the five men and two women on board, six of those astronauts were married, they had 12 children between them, and all seven surely had beloved people back on Earth, waiting and praying for their safe returns.
As a mom, I would want to know if my chances of ever seeing my daughter again had just narrowed to a tiny percentage. Even though just typing that makes me cry, I know I'd want to know. I’d want to be able to write her a letter, or record her a message, and tell her how much I love her, how strong and brave she is, and that I will always, always watch over her until we can be together again in the next world. I’d want to tell my husband one last time how much he means to me, how grateful I was for the wonderful man and father he is. My mom, my sisters, my best friends ... the list goes on, and I’d want that opportunity to send a final message of love and gratitude and hope.
And, even though I'm not religious, per se, I'd want the opportunity to pray.
Yes, I’m sure most of the time astronauts were prepared for the worst -- they were incredibly brave people who knew the risks they faced, and surely many left letters or messages to be opened if they didn't make it back. But there’s a big, big difference between embarking on a mission that you understand carries inherent, theoretical danger ... and knowing the time in your hour glass is just about to run all the way out.
Should NASA have told the Columbia astronauts the reality? Or was it better to leave them in ignorant bliss?
Image via NASA