Of Astronauts and Sailors

Columbia and Her Crew

By Keith Chapman

 I have always felt that my aerospace friends should have a natural interest in sailing.  Why?  Well, air and water are both fluids, and sails, keels, and rudders are basically wings.  They've all learned about foil shapes and fluid dynamics and lift and drag, so the match to me is obvious - the principles are all the same, and a passion for one should easily translate into a passion for the other. 

Likewise, I have also always felt that my fellow sailors should have a natural interest in space exploration.  Why?  Because I believe that the essence of sailing is to satisfy our innate need for adventure and exploration.  Sure, we go around the buoys a lot, but there's a reason why distance racing is popular.  We saddle up, rely on our skills, training, and equipment, and go places and see things and strive to return home in one piece full of stories to tell to those unfortunate enough to not have joined us.  What we do now as a sport in that spirit was and is still done on Earth for the betterment and advancement of mankind.  Space and sailing?  To me the basic urge for both is the same, and a passion for one should easily translate into a passion for the other.

Against that background, the fate of the Columbia and her crew represents a loss that transcends the obvious.  Just as there were those that did not see reason to experience in person that the world was not flat, there are those that think our physical presence in space is not needed, that we do nothing new, and the task should be given up solely to robots.  They should educate themselves in what truly is being done, learned, and passed on to those that are Earth-bound.  And although now a cliché, we as beings seem to possess the built-in need to go places and see things and strive to return home in one piece full of stories to tell to those unfortunate enough to not have joined us.  We don't always make it back, whether we venture on land, sea, air, or space.  But that hasn’t stopped us from keeping at it.

So, salute Columbia and her exceptional crew, and mourn their loss as Americans and friends, members of the NASA community, and as explorers in the same tradition of the sailors that have risked all to seek new lands and learn more of the ones already discovered.  Fair winds and following seas.


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