Jun 182007

Further to my ’who-gives-a-shit’ rant from last week, I wonder just how many people realised that the International Space Station came closer than it’s ever done, since it’s initial meccano kit creation began in 1998, to falling out of orbit completely over the weekend.

With installation of what NASA calls the S4 truss array supporting a set of solar sails capable of doubling the stations power output in readiness for installation of the European Space Agency module later this year, power systems could be switched from the ten year old P6 array. The switching didn’t go as planned, with a power surge scrambling the station’s Russian navigation and station-keeping computer systems.

The so-called ’glitches’ were eventually resolved, but not until after the station’s Russian commander, Fyodor Yurchikhin, pulled an all-nighter in a bid to resolve the power problems and resultant computer failures. A 24 hour work-shift in space is unheard of. Did we see or hear anything of these days of dramas in our media, while the lives of some eight human beings were at terrible risk in the most hostile environment possible? Barely a whisper. I recall a passing few words on Friday’s ABC television news, but absolutely nothing over the weekend. In fact, except for these dramas which might have eventuated in abandonment of the ISS, even if temporarily, we’ve heard next to nothing about the arduous tasks undertaken and successfully completed by the crews of STS-117 and Expedition 15.

Manned spaceflight, even to low earth orbit, just doesn’t excite the populace any longer. I cannot help myself in asking why not? Space is the final frontier. It’s the last and greatest adventure humanity can undertake and will always be an adventure, a struggle and a challenge because we can’t live there long term. The irony being that for our species survival, we need to learn it’s secrets, and cope with it’s disinterest in our survival. If humanity is to continue on once this planet we call home is exhausted, as it will be someday soon, the rate we’re using it up, we need to master manned space flight. Places like the ISS enable us to train for that eventuality. But who cares? Very few of we planet-bound simpletons, so it seems.

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