Since when are Astronauts Heroes?

Each man is a hero and oracle to somebody.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson.

On Saturday, February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia decided it had had enough. It was tired of ferrying a bunch of pseudo-scientists and military brats into orbit so they could run tests on whether or not hamsters have trouble shitting in a vacuum (they don’t) or what a flame looks like sans gravity (like a blue nipple). It was tired of having a computer system a Game Boy would laugh at, and, most important, it was tired of the almost conscious neglect it was getting from NASA.

So when a piece of insulating foam ripped off the main fuel tank and struck its left wing just after launch, Columbia tossed in the towel and showed the United States what budget cut after budget cut can do in a Mach 18 slipstream.

The only unfortunate side effect in Columbia’s suicide was that it made heroes out of the seven astronauts housed in its belly.

· · · · ·

Going up in a space shuttle does not make one a hero.

From the moment they begin their training, astronauts are well aware that the rocket they take into space is a death trap. NASA estimates catastrophic failure every 75 flights. The missions undertaken are often inane bullshit used to justify what little budget the space program has left.

Aside from the universal struggle of docking your ass into a zero-g toilet, there is nothing gallant about going into space.

Is it the trip into space itself that people worship? If I asked you to strap yourself to a million gallons of partially radioactive fuel would you do it?

No. Because unless you are a moron, you value your life.

Face it: astronauts are everyday people who train for what amounts to a bitch of a commute.

That’s the biggest problem I have with this recent showering of praise for people who, for lack of a better term, died in a cosmic car crash.

I see accidents on the road every day that are grizzly, horrific messes. I’ve seen a car cleaved in two, its passengers a blot on the pavement.

People who were on their way to work. People who, in that final fleeting moment, felt an eternity of pain as their life ended. However, their deadly commute won’t amount to generous lifetime compensations for those they leave behind. It doesn’t result in an endless array of pointless media coverage.

The quest was the same: to get to work. The vehicles to get them there were both poorly manufactured from substandard parts that, in the end, are put together by a computer (which can malfunction) and by people (who get paid whether or not their equipment is recalled). Why then, should we deify those who in their hubris chose to shoot themselves to the stars?

Doing your job does not make you a hero.

Not firefighters, not policemen, not doctors, and certainly not astronauts.


Because they get paid to take the risk of dying. A hero does something that benefits all, sometimes at the cost of themselves, for no gain.

I didn’t hear anyone recently calling astronauts heroes until the debris started falling.

That sure hasn’t stopped the media, however. Taking a brief respite from its day job as a shill for government propaganda, the “news” has pumped this thing into a national tragedy, complete with nameless mourners, faceless pundits, and enough saccharine-soaked emotion to make viewers think something epic happened.

The worst part of this ridiculous affair is that through it all we haven’t learned one iota about our own casualties because they’ve been completely overshadowed by Ilan Ramon’s death. Apparently, the American press feels the need to fawn over this guy because he’s the first Israeli in space.

Big fucking deal.

Richard Husband. William McCool. Michael Anderson. David Brown. Kalpana Chawla. Laurel Clark.

These are Americans. If we’re going to be bombarded with constant media by our pathetic press, at least have the dignity and responsibility to cover these individuals.

But no.

Ilan Ramon is splashed everywhere. He’s Israeli. His parents are Holocaust survivors. He’s also a known saboteur who infiltrated Iraq in the 1980s and blew up a nuclear power plant.

Once upon a time, when people actually looked at the U.S. government in a positive, supportive light, the Space Program was a shining beacon of Americana. In less than a decade, the infrastructure and the technology needed to send men to the moon and return them safely was designed and implemented. As a result, the rest of the world gauged our technological progress as the standard to look up to, and the astronaut, regardless of the terminally dull nature of his duties, became an admired profession.

With Columbia’s death comes the death of optimism for space. Why? Because we can’t even manage to discern that a massive piece of insulation striking a critical part of the shuttle would result in trouble.

That NASA thought the shuttle was safe for landing shows how arrogant and stupid we are. Meanwhile, Russia continues to launch shoeboxes rented by the highest bidder into space and bring it home safely.

Conspiracy theorists are spinning this like some kind of terrorist attack. Maybe because it sounds better to some. I’d like to think that some fuck blew up our shuttle rather than know it collapsed under its own neglect, but it isn’t possible. Columbia didn’t die to promote Bush’s agenda against Iraq, it didn’t die to make a martyr out of an Israeli, it didn’t die to send a message against the dangers of space.

It died because the people who took care of it decided it was more frugal to spend money elsewhere and take a risk that antiquated hardware wouldn’t fall apart.

And because of that, people died.

There’s nothing heroic about that.