The first of the CAF Red Tail Project’s six tenets of the RISE ABOVE educational program is: Aim High. The Tuskegee Airmen certainly did that as they worked to prove “the brass” wrong: black men were smart enough and courageous enough to learn to fly and fight for America during the Second World War. Through months and months of rigorous flight training and then in battle, the Airmen continued to aim high – literally and figuratively.
It takes courage to set a lofty goal and work to meet it. Aviation and aerospace are industries that often require human courage to move toward their programs’ goals and suffer the setbacks when things don’t work out or, worse, go horribly wrong. .
This past Tuesday marked the end of another anniversary of seven days in the American space program that Americans would like to forget, yet make an effort to remember in order to honor 17 courageous people who paid the ultimate price.
- On January 26 (1986), the space shuttle Challenger blew up less than two minutes after launch, killing seven astronauts
- On January 27 (1967), the three crew members of Apollo 1 burned to death in their capsule during launch pad tests
- On February 1 (2003), the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry; seven astronauts lost their lives.
Each of these catastrophes was heavily analyzed to determine their cause(s). Based on that analysis, changes were made to future programs and missions to try and avoid another disaster. Ambient air temperature is now a launch consideration as a result of the Challenger explosion. Major changes – including allowing the escape hatch to be opened from the inside – were made to the Apollo program’s space capsule after the Apollo 1 disaster. The Apollo program suffered no more disasters and even brought home a trio of astronauts that “had a problem” when their moon mission suffered an explosion in space (Apollo 13). And, although pieces of thermal insulation still fall off of the space shuttles’ external tanks at launch, the crews now take space walks to check a shuttle’s exterior and make repairs to the heat-resistant tiles before reentry.
The next shuttle launch is set for February 24. The lessons learned from previous successful launches as well Challenger and Columbia will have been factored into the decision-making process and if launch conditions are not optimal, the launch will be postponed.
When Discovery does launch, it will be hauling components to the international space station. Talk about aiming high…