The world too much with us? Too much Jenin, Sharon, Powell, suicide, and semiticide?
Then on a clear evening, after sunset, look up. You will see steady stars crossing the twilight, most west to east, some pole to pole, all put there by man and for a variety of reasons. Some are top secret, monitoring emanations from suspect regions with a discreet capacity that boggles the mortal mind. There are dozens of privately-owned satellites designed to provide worldwide communication. Many of these have brought grief and bankruptcy to the pioneering enterprises that put them up there, for space, like broadband communication, is a difficult environment economically as well as physically. Farther out, revolving at the earth’s rotational speed and hence standing still, the great relays that send television pictures with digital clarity into thousands of homes. And one special point of light, the ISS, the International Space Station, moves generally west to east. Aboard it are human beings, living, working, wondering, for months at a time.
The shuttles and soyuz spacecraft that take earthlings to and from the station lift off virtually unnoticed now and return anonymously, back-page stories. Recently a human interest element leaped to the front page. Barbara Morgan will be assigned to a shuttle mission sometime in 2004, after the Space Station has been completed. She was the backup to Christa McAuliffe, the teacher killed with six crewmates in the Challenger explosion 16 years ago. After a teaching stint in Idaho, Morgan, now 50, entered astronaut training and though her flight may involve some public relations, teaching from space, she will pull a regular shuttle shift as a mission specialist. Her launch will of course be sadly reminiscent and all the horror of the Challenger’s 70 seconds of flight will be replayed ad nauseam.
There are others in the wings who may beat Morgan there. They plan to fly to the space station for money. Lance Bass of the pop group *NSYNC has been in Russia for medical screening as a space tourist, courtesy of RadioShack Corp. Having already completed her medical check is Lori Garver, a former NASA official now a private consultant. Neither has yet nailed down flight deals with the Russians, who extracted a reported 20-million from the first space tourist, the American Dennis Tito. The Tito flight was a hassle between then-NASA administrators and the cash-starved Russians. The purists of NASA objected to a private passenger when the station is still under construction, but to no avail.
Partly because of the Tito flight, NASA and its fifteen international space station partners have hammered out a new set of ground rules about who can go. A nine-page document sets out criteria that will require would-be space travelers to sign the new ISS Crew Code of Conduct, which prohibits, among other things, flights that might be motivated by financial gain. Perhaps a little late. RadioShack has already filmed one commercial aboard the station and while a NASA astronaut aboard was not allowed to appear in it, his two Russian cosmonaut colleagues did.
Most of the Code is designed to spell out who will not be welcome aboard: drunks, drug addicts, people who belong to organizations any of the fifteen members are suspicious of or embarrassed by. Taliban officials, thus, need not apply; one of the banned categories includes “the notoriously disgraceful.”
It’ll be comforting on that starry evening to look up and know that the gleaming star that moves from horizon to horizon, sunlit above the darkening earth, contains no one notoriously disgraceful. Especially when we return our gaze to the activities of our earthbound fellows who obviously know nothing of the space code.