Somehow, 30,000 seems safer than 200,000.
While I understand the feelings of those who have said "well, look at all these other people who died yesterday; seven more is hardly a drop in the ocean, and they knew the risks they were taking," I cannot agree with them. It's not that these people, these particular seven women and men, were more important than the other hundreds or thousands who died - of diseases, of starvation, in conflicts, in accidents - but the manner of their deaths has more significance.
It isn't everyone whose death is likely to put the space programme back several years - or perhaps provide a convenient excuse to cancel it altogether.
Perhaps it should be. Perhaps one death should be equally as important as any other. It is said that God sees every sparrow who falls; but if one were to attempt to mark the deaths of every human who perished in the same way, one would do nothing else - and still one couldn't do the job justice.
Did they know the risks they were taking? Of course. Entering the fringes of space atop rockets filled with high explosive is hardly a safe occupation; anyone who thought otherwise would be delusional. And those of us who remember the Challenger disaster (I regret that I am too young to have any memory of the Apollo missions) will know this, too.
When Columbia first flew in 1981, I remember a Saturday spent at my grandparents' flat. I was glued to the Teletext; they had a page which was updating every few minutes with data from the Shuttle flight - how many orbits they had made, how high the Shuttle's orbit was, things like that. It was much more exciting to me than Saturday afternoon television.
I knew then, as I know now, that I will never enter space myself; the
space programme has no need for an unfit, overweight, highly myopic semi-claustrophobe. But it has need of dreamers, and it has need of supporters, and I count myself in both categories. (There are those who have been able to support it more actively - space tourism, anyone?)
The sight of a STS-107 mission patch, lost in a patch of grass in Texas, is an affecting one to me. Maybe not to you, but grant me my time to mourn the further tarnishing of the dream of space. I hoped to see humans visiting the Moon again, in my lifetime, or even Mars; unless we can work through this setback, it may not happen. And I'm not sure that those in power have the will to do so.