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Last Updated: Monday, 1 September, 2003, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
Can space travel ever be safe?
Nasa has pledged to introduce changes following a scathing independent report into the fatal break-up of the Columbia space shuttle.

The independent inquiry into the Columbia space shuttle said that Nasa managers were "as much a cause" of the tragedy as technical faults.

The shuttle disintegrated as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere on February 1, killing all seven astronauts.

Can space travel ever be safe? Tell us what you think.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.

Your reaction:

Of course there are risks, but the reward is worth it
Zane, USA
All exploration is risky. Think how many people lost their lives sailing around this planet in wooden ships. Where would be today if the no one ever left home? Of course there are risks, but the reward is worth it. We can learn so much from the effort. If we're lucky we may learn how to help our own world. And I think the manned program is a great morale booster, we can look at them and say "That is what a human being is capable of, and if we can do that, then we can do anything".
Zane, USA

Space exploration is not only vital to the future of our species, but it unites countries in a spirit of cooperation and a shared thirst for discovery. Given time and resources, it will become as safe and routine as air travel.
Dan, UK

Why is space travel so needed? There are many comments here saying it's vital, saying it must be done etc, but why? No it doesn't need to be done. It doesn't affect us. It's irrelevant. It's a total waste of time, effort and money. Incredible to think we have so much wrong with our countries, environment and earth yet we put thousands of billions into sending rockets into the sky. Bizarre.
Fiona, UK

More and better robots are the way to explore space NOW
Bill Allenbaugh, USA
Until technology advances us to the point where we can overcome interplanetary distances in days or weeks, human spaceflight should be limited to within the safety of Earth's magnetic field. Gamma ray bursts and solar flares can kill quickly and are difficult to shield from. Heavy metal shielding can actually increase some forms of radiation by cascading neutrons from the metal itself. The affects of long term weightlessness weaken the bones, atrophy muscles, and harm the immune system. More and better robots are the way to explore space NOW.
Bill Allenbaugh, USA

Eventually, as all technologies do, this one will also mature and space travel will become safer. Every technology has had its share of failures, its just that today we get to know more & faster. The only worry is that every time accountants, bureaucrats & managers start making the decisions things start going wrong. Both Challenger & Columbia disasters bear that out.
Avinash P, India

Space exploration is vital. The positives far outweigh the negatives and the cost is a very small one in the long run. This is an area of existence along with the general health of the planet that needs to be seriously addressed by everyone. This case however shows us yet again as in our daily lives, that it is our own complacent, short sighted, lazy underhanded ethics coupled with the accepted proviso of measuring 'quality' by meeting the minimum required standards and levels, or in other words the cheapest option for the job, as opposed to the best option for the job, that has let us all down again.
Mr Brooks, UK

Maybe now is the time to start looking at alternative technologies for getting us into space
Colin Jones, United Kingdom
Maybe now is the time to start looking at alternative technologies for getting us into space. The fabled 'Space Elevator', a 62,000 mile long cable made of carbon nanotubes may sound far fetched but it is closer than ever. Research into alternative methods of getting off the planet may be the way to go.
Colin Jones, United Kingdom

Exploring space is a risky - albeit entirely necessary - business. However, what one must remember is although NASA is a fantastic program, it is also an inefficient bureaucracy, where the lines of communication are in desperate need of repair. When the shuttle Challenger exploded midair in 1986, it was determined that the O-rings were to mostly to blame. Low-level engineers had worries, concerns were raised, and memos were sent and ignored/brushed aside. I would be devastated to see the end of space exploration, but it has become painfully clear that politics and public relations have no place at NASA.
Kari, California, USA

Of course space travel can be safer, but with some danger still. It's just a matter of time, money, and commitment. I too am disappointed at NASA after the Columbia accident report was released. It seems that NASA management team have not changed much since the Challenger accident and this gross display of mismanagement can't be good for future space flight.
Daniel, Canada

Apparently human kind should not be permitted to expend one single pence on any research and development program until every single human on the planet goes to bed with a full stomach, with shelter and state provided unlimited and unrestricted healthcare. We will be returning to the caves in a few centuries.
Stephen, USA

NASA should consider privatizing their human flight program
Jobe Solomon, California, US
I believe space travel can be safer. NASA should restructure not only its management, but their R&D. The shuttle is an ailing workhorse that was designed in the 1960s. I think NASA should be committed to replacing these obsolete, grossly overpriced, unsafe vehicles. NASA should consider privatizing their human flight program in order to reap the benefits from technological advancements that arise out of competition. NASA would be an overseeing administration that would set the rules on safety and training (similar to the FAA). This would accelerate advancements toward a safe and cheap spacecraft that could open up possibilities for space tourism and colonization.
Jobe Solomon, California, US

Due to the complexity of the travelling in space, there will always be risk. Walking across the street has its risk, as does sitting on top of a rocket.
Mike Daly, US

Safety is relative. Space travel, except in case of gross negligence, is probably as safe as can be technologically possible, and will continue to become safer. Can we guarantee that space travel is perfectly safe, and that there will never be any more accident? Of course not. For that matter, we cannot guarantee that walking across the street is perfectly safe either. This hasn't stopped us from trying, and the same goes for space travel. We learn from our mistakes, but we don't turn back.
Allan, USA

Of course space travel can be made safe. Eventually. Look at the pioneering days of aviation: there were similar tragedies then, as there were with all attempts by man to explore beyond his "natural" ability to travel. But the relevant question is: can space travel be made safe at an acceptable cost? To which I believe the answer is "no". The vast sums of money and resources that will be required to reach a "safe" level are simply not justified when one considers how these resources could be spent in improving the life of humankind on the planet that we already inhabit - and grossly abuse !
Alan Hall, UK

Space travel will improve in safety, cost and efficiency
Dave Sedgwick, USA
Take just a moment and look back 100 years and see what technology existed. Not much, by our standards, right? Space travel will improve in safety, cost and efficiency by clear markers 5, 10, 50 years down the road. Regardless, no matter how dangerous it will always be, there will be thousands, millions, eager to volunteer to take part in Man's greatest quest. God bless you Columbia, Challenger, Apollo 1. You will always be in our hearts.
Dave Sedgwick, USA

If NASA had enough money then everything would be OK. Congress should immediately vote a much-needed and well-deserved increase in funds for NASA. And before the Luddites gasp, if the world stopped preparing for and engaging in war then there would be plenty of money left over to sort out the so-called "Home problems".
Robin, UK

Space travel not only can but must become safe. It is essential to our species survival. We have to be able to explore the universe at large to progress.
Garry Crant, England

Will space travel ever be safe? Yes, eventually. But we must look at what the benefits of space travel are and weigh them against the cost of both human life and money. People who say that space travel is only about finding planets that nobody cares about are mistaken. In truth most space travel consists of experiments in a zero gravity atmosphere. The amount of inventions and studies done in space is incredible. We cannot shy away from what we don't know. I believe that the human sacrifice given is worth the gain.
Tristan, USA

Humanity makes progress by exploring the unknown
Chris Clark, UK
Space travel is unlikely ever to be safe, and the escalating costs of the space programme in a time of global terrorism and other world economic problems is hard to defend. However, humanity makes progress by exploring the unknown. I believe space activity using vehicles and systems made as safe as practical should continue. However, with two shuttles gone through preventable incidents, if NASA cannot change their managers' mindsets, it is time to change the managers.
Chris Clark, UK

Space travel will be about as safe as travelling in a bus, train, car or plane. New technology needs time to bed down.
Ali, UK

It's all a complete waste of time. Oh yes, very pretty, very thrilling, very exciting. But these men and women need to stop playing with their little rocket toys, stop wasting all our money on their ridiculous missions, and focus on the planet we've got at the moment. What's the point of discovering other planets when we're messing up our own one so badly?
Graham Kendall, UK

The entire engineering community is suffering from this kind of poor management at the moment in my opinion. Far too often, the preconceptions or ego of a manager stand in the way of making informed technical decisions based on the facts and the collective experience of an engineering team.

I find it hard to believe that NASA has done nothing over the years to safeguard the protective layer of the heat shield on the Shuttle? It seems to me that complacency has set in at NASA. Surely a material could have been designed in some sort of 'roll' like a carpet, so that there would be no chance of a square tile falling off? Square tiles, stuck on with glue to protect human life? It seems an antiquated way of protecting a modern space-shuttle and its precious human cargo!
Normajean McCloud, UK

Space travel will never be 100% safe, like driving a car isn't, or getting on a plane isn't. The question is have we taken the right steps to ensure that travel is a safe as it possibly can be? If there were "organisational compromises" these need to be investigated and dealt with to ensure that they do not re-occur.
Helen W, UK

Just like all those pioneers before us we cannot allow these tragic accidents to stop our journey to the stars
Kevin Snider, USA
The Human Race has always had exploration at heart. How many people in all of history have risked their lives to reach new places? How many have died? And yet Humanity has reached almost every place on this planet no matter how dangerous. Just like all those pioneers before us we cannot allow these tragic accidents to stop our journey to the stars. Ships can be redesigned, people can adapt to hostile environments and the Human Spirit cannot be broken.
Kevin Snider, USA

As the saying goes, "If anything can go wrong, it will, when you least expect it." We are designed to exist on this Earth, and no other planet, we exist for a very short period of time. Indeed, we as a species have no guarantee that we will be here in 100 years time.
Hugh Jones, Canada

If we would stop destroying these planes we could stop looking for other places.
Volker, England (ex Germany)

In space travel we meet the most hazardous and unforgiving of environments. There will always be risks. What is reprehensible in this tragedy is that the ugly issue of Cost-Cutting arose. Sadly Those In Authority never seem to listen to the old adage about 'spoiling the ship for a hap'worth of tar'
Roger, UK

No form of travel is ever going to be 100% safe, be it walking, driving or space travel. We need to keep pushing back the boundaries.
Fraser, England

Of course it can be safe. Space is still new and challenging, just like in the pioneering days of flight. When space travel becomes more widespread, and the private sector invests into manned space flight, we'll become better at it. Until then, an unfortunate fact is there's to be a lot more fatalities before we're good at it. But still - we'll get there in the end.
Paul, UK

When planes were first invented were they safe?
Rachel, Oxford, UK
Is anything 100% safe? However, space travel can indeed become safer than it is currently. It is already safer than it was 20 or 30 years ago. When planes were first invented were they safe? It's like anything, over time we will find out what are the problems and fix them. As we learn more about space and develop new technology travel into space will become safer. Hopefully this disaster has taught NASA's Management Team that nothing should be overlooked.
Rachel, Oxford, UK

Sure it's dangerous, so is diving to the bottom of the sea, or climbing mountains and searching through jungles. But it's too important to stop. If I had the money I'd buy a ticket tomorrow.
Bob, U.K.

Governments should sort out the problems in their countries on Earth before they start messing about in Space.
Sian Morgan, Uk

There will always be an element of danger in space travel, as there is in every mode of transport. That's what makes it adventurous and appealing. If we had squirmed every time travel got dangerous, we would never have got to where we are today. We learn from these mistakes, that's how we progress.
Sam, UK

There is a very simple way to make space travel completely safe; stop flying missions. Of course this is the only way, and the way favoured by those who have always objected to manned missions. The USAF wants NASA to fly more military missions, congress wants NASA to stop costing so much money and the people at large don't give a damn anymore except when things go wrong.

Let's face it, the manned space programme, while noble, worthwhile and vitally important, will never be as safe, or more importantly, as cheap as unmanned equivalents. I pray the US will continue the manned programme, but have little hope that this will be so.
Mac, UK

Any form of travel involving high speeds and humans is inherently unsafe. Trains, cars, motorbikes, space shuttles....
Chris Moore, UK

Of course space travel can be safe. It is only 34 years since man set foot on the moon. Cars have been around for over a century and they not 100% safe yet...
Ian Simmins, UK


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