As I read some great comments by Dan Gillmor, Dave Winer and other bloggers about the shuttle tragedy, I was reminded about the story of one of the first Japanese submarines. Japan was doing research on submarines, but one of the first trials went terribly wrong. The submarine sank to the bottom of the ocean and the men began to die as oxygen was depleted. They recovered the diary of the captain of the ship. In the diary, the captain pleads to the government and the people of Japan to continue the research and not allow the failure of the mission to slow it down. The diary is quite moving. I bet that if the crew of the space shuttle had had the time to write, they probably would have written something similar.

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One of the poets who contributes regularly to my DayPoems web site has written some verse on the Columbia accident that makes a similar point. www.daypoems.net

The courageous Lt. Sakuma:

"...it is with pride that I inform you that the crew to a man have discharged their duties as sailors should with the utmost coolness until their dying moments."

Those terrible, terrible tiles:

Associated Press 2/2/2003

"Investigators quickly focused on the possibility that Columbia's thermal tiles were damaged far more seriously than NASA realized by a piece of debris during liftoff.

Just a little over a minute into Columbia's launch on Jan. 16, a chunk of insulating foam peeled away from the external fuel tank and smacked into the left wing, which like the rest of the shuttle is covered with tiles to protect the ship from the extreme heat of re-entry into the atmosphere.

On Saturday, that same wing started exhibiting sensor failures and other problems 23 minutes before Columbia was scheduled to touch down. With just 16 minutes to go before landing, the shuttle disintegrated over Texas."

This blogspace is one where suggestions for radically improved engineering process might first appear. The desire, yes, is to continue, but not like this, please. This is not about some little tile glue fix. It's about a radically correct engineering process suitable for life support under normal operation, certainly, and responsive to every contingency. Anything less is unbecoming, and just plain wrong.

Toph -

I agree with you, wholeheartedly, of course. My apologies for conveying anything different and for any offense I may have caused.

It's just that I can remember, back when I was a child, NASA was having problems with those damn tiles. My father and uncle always talked about them with disdain and fear, going so far as to write books about NASA "malpractice" on account of their design. But no... you're right, this cannot be reduced to something as mundane as a glue fix. It's just so horrible to have one of your worst fears realized.

Nonetheless, NASA did all they could to conduct this mission safely. It is counterproductive to lay any blame. I am sorry. I will try to lament elsewhere.

Toph. I agree with you completely. I think we have to make sure that their deaths were not in vain and that we learn a great deal from this incident and as you say, create a "radically correct engineering process." I just think we should avoid the natural reaction to stop the research completely. That would be a tragic twist.

Mike. Actually, the entire books on malpractice might be a good place to start. Also, wish to emphasize great respect for aspirations of those lost as reflected in submarine story, the relevant quotation you found such as this for context, and your personal recollection of terrible tiles. Encourage continue excellent posts here and forgive harsh tone or misunderstanding on my part, an artifact of tremendous grief. No interest in laying blame, myself, just want more comprehensive sense of responsibility, and yes, concur with these beautiful words from Joi Ito, "we should avoid the natural reaction to stop the research completely. That would be a tragic twist."

Thanks guys. Perhaps there's some hope to be taken from this. I'm encouraged to see that broad reaction to the tragedy is a defiant one.

Although relatively esoteric to non-Japanese, the experience and courage of Lt. Sakuma and his crew is surprisingly relevant. His crew and that of the Columbia died doing what they loved and what they believed in. For greater impact, have a look at Lt. Sakuma's hastily written will in his native Japanese.

Thanks guys. Perhaps there's some hope to be taken from this. I'm encouraged to see that broad reaction to the tragedy is a defiant one.

Although relatively esoteric to non-Japanese, the experience and courage of Lt. Sakuma and his crew is surprisingly relevant. His crew and that of the Columbia died doing what they loved and what they believed in. For greater impact, have a look at Lt. Sakuma's hastily written will in his native Japanese.

I should also add that it is dangerous and hasty to speculate as to the culpability of any component of the shuttle at this time. That's it.

Explored this text from the point of view of babelfish, enter the link, translate web page, Japanese to English. It may look rather strange, especially if no Japanese fonts are installed on the computer for the browser to use, but following appears to be the relevant passage toward the end of the will:

One, no preeminent person twist adoption sail the in diving boat member loyal retainer soldier/finishing Ha preeminence the main point ス カカルトキニ difficulty Lu happiness Ni

This boat member Ha everyone ヨク 其 job it comes out the exhausting cicely satisfactory Ni thought フ our レハ normal Ni house, ヅレバ death the period ス

This text appears to correspond to the following passage in the original Japanese:
一、潜水艇員士卒ハ抜群中ノ抜群者ヨリ採用スルヲ要ス カカルトキニ困ル故 幸ニ

  本艇員ハ皆ヨク其職ヲ尽セリ 満足ニ思フ 我レハ常ニ家ヲ出ヅレバ死ヲ期ス 

  サレバ遺言状ハ既ニ「カラサキ」引出シノ中ニアリ(之レ但私事ニ関スル事言フ

  必要ナシ田口浅見兄ヨ之レヲ愚父ニ致サレヨ)

Off topic: Joi, I'm reading your blog entries and comments via NetNewsWire, which makes it really convenient to pick up the new stuff, but your RSS files for comments do not give the name of the author, so they are pretty hard to follow (what is written by Joi, what by a reader?). How about putting the author parenthetically after the title?

Done. Thanks Hirata!

Hmm... I must be a Japanese born and brought up in Japan. Still I have never heard of this story before. Interesting. I seem to have filtered anything that can, in any way, glorify Japan's military aggression out of my reading list.

Toph, I found an English translation which looks quite faithful to the original. The original is written in classic Kana orthography, Kanji and grammar rules, which may well confuse this Babel fish.

I can curse Koizumi-san for half an hour for semi-officially visiting the shrine again, but these scientific souls makes me somewhat proud. Proud to be Japanese? ...No, I don't think so. I am proud of the NASA people just as much.

I just posted an entry on Chanpon.org about Lt. Sakuma. Thanks for tracking this down Mike and Chie.

I was very, very sad to see the shuttle accident. It was a tragedy..

Travelling into space has recently seemed almost routine.. but it can never be so.. Too many things can go wrong..we all know that...

The people who go into space know the risks.. But they do it, they take the risk in stride.. for all of us.. for all mankind..

My co-worker Rachelle and I used to work with one of the astronauts, Kalpana Chawla, when she worked at the NAS supercomputer center at NASA-Ames. (where she worked immediately before she was accepted into the astronaut program..)
She was running partners with one of the people in my group, so she would pop through around lunchtime every day..to start their noontime runs.. I remember her for her great smile..

She really stood out,.. even in what was an environment of exceptional people.. I wish I had gotten to know her better..

It is very sad hearing about his whole thing about the shuttle but i think that people die everyday and we dont give out our money to them and we are in war we are already taking money from our country for war. And on top of that we have the space program asking for more money this is a joke. It is more importan to take care of our country than to go into space at the moment!!

It is very sad hearing about his whole thing about the shuttle but i think that people die everyday and we dont give out our money to them and we are in war we are already taking money from our country for war. And on top of that we have the space program asking for more money this is a joke. It is more importan to take care of our country than to go into space at the moment!!

In Response to Gloria's statement. Yes it is sad that people are dieing everyday but we shouldn't blame the space program for their deaths. Even if we were to cut out all the money in the space program it would be less then 1% of the U.S. Budget. Yes this 1% might help save a few lives but the research done in the space program has saved many more.

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