Since I was a child, I’ve been certain that our planet is not the only place where life exists. I can remember staying up with the covers pulled around my head in bed, with my eyes glued to shows like Nova on late-night public television. Seeing colourful renderings of planets like Saturn and Venus made me start wondering whether aliens could truly exist….if there really could be something human-like existing in another atmosphere. These thoughts would brighten my eyes when watching NASA launch yet another probe into space.

Of course, I was only a twinkle in my mother’s eye when both Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong were launched into space. These major events were only as close as my unexciting school textbook, with dates replacing the pulse of flesh and blood. The first launch I can actually clearly recall is the 1986 Challenger disaster: being home from school watching Christa McAuliffe (at the time, only the second American woman since Sally Ride) board the ship with her fellow crewmembers, a truly multiracial team. I can still remember seeing the hope on their faces as they passed by, waving to the crowd, on the way to the spaceship. Watching the gradual lift as the ship started to rise into the sky….then the unbelievable explosion that made the ship disintegrate after 11 seconds.

To find out that it was an avoidable mechanical defect (a weak ring around a fuel canister) shook my faith in the space program: with millions of dollars at NASA’s disposal, it would have been worth the time to give the ship an overhaul.

Seeing the Columbia explode in February brought the same questions to mind: What happened and why? Was it mechanical or human defect that caused this ship to explode as it re-entered the atmosphere? Discovering that the accident was created through a mixture of both has shaped NASA’s future. With the US budget money at a premium, and another launch on the horizon [Expedition 8 to the International Space Station], this one will be watched closely worldwide to justify NASA’s position as a premier ground for future scientists and astronauts.