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Life Arts    H3'ed 9/23/11

UARS Terror

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I'm scared.   I haven't been able to take my eyes off the UARS tracking widgets, especially now that the US is under the gun once again as a target where the defunct satellite's projectiles will land.   Of course, I don't want anyone to be hurt or killed.   But I especially don't want it to be me or my loved ones.   And, despite all the "reassuring" odds being bandied about by NASA and its ilk.   If a piece of that junkheap does land on you, your odds went from 1 in a trillion to 100%.

I'm also angry.   We've just been tossing garbage up into space with the same lack of concern we've been polluting our waters and our land.   I'm sure people have died from our waste (Fukushima anyone?).   But I try to avoid nuclear reactors, unfiltered water, and uncooked food.   I provide myself with the illusion that I have some control about avoiding risks.   (Like not buying that cute cottage under the runway of a regional airport.)   But, I can't handle the idea that my life or that of my family could be snuffed out by the random detritus from an irresponsible agency.   And yes, irresponsible.   What gives NASA the right to risk even one life from falling debris?   This satellite had enough fuel and control to be either destroyed in space, destroyed and tossed in a direction away from Earth, or brought down in a controlled descent.   Such calculations (i.e. how are we going to end a satellite's service safely?) should have been made before the satellite was launched.   NASA, you don't have the right to shrug and take chances with my or my family's life, even if the risks you cite are "small".   And how dare you put me and so many others through the agony of this unending anxiety as to whether the dice roll or spinner of death will land on my head!

I'm also at a loss to understand why we are not marshalling the technology we have to down a plane with a heat seeking missile or ICBM and blow it to harmless smithereens.   If we can plot the descent of this vehicle and track the bus-sized chunks that remain, why is our so-called Air Force not on alert to "Star Wars" us out of danger?   Surely the small pieces of a blown up bus will be less likely to bring down a building or a highway.   Our government has abandoned the pretense of protecting us from illiteracy, illness, or financial ruin.   Can't they at least try to save our lives?

Please don't try to scold me with platitudes about life being full of risks.   Without the fantasy of control, I cannot face that reality.   I recall my being aghast as a young teen when I grilled my parents about the experience of facing the random forays of German bombers in Europe during World War II.   How did you survive knowing that bombs were falling all around you, I'd asked, and that the house down the block and its occupants had just been blown to smithereens?   The combination of youth, faith, and fatalism had gotten them through the War.   Sadly, I have none of these three.   Just abject fear.

When Skylab fell 30 years ago, I left my work post and raced to a subterranean fallout shelter in the high rise I was working in to hide until the "danger" had passed.    I never imagined I would have to relive that experience again.   Today, I have more than myself and my life to worry about, my children, husband, and elderly parents, all scattered far from me--and far from my ability to grab them and take them to a subway tunnel or a subterranean haven.   I know that time, accidents, and illness might--and in the case of my parents, likely will--bring me losses before my own death; losses that I dread.   I never thought space program negligence would add to that risk.

As a child, my literature loving mother would encourage me to read classical literary dramas of the 18th and 19th century.    I couldn't.   The pain of the tragedies within devastated my soul, and I retreated to the fantasy of science fiction and cozy mysteries, where nothing is real and good triumphs over evil in the end.   When asked to read a "sad book" in school, I would turn to the last pages to see who survived and who died, so that I could keep myself from getting attached to a character that I would have to mourn.

Driven by hormones, loneliness, and culture, I suppose, I did fall in love, get married, and have children.   I did, despite my logical red alerts, get attached.   I have the most wonderful family--and yet, I also have a regret--that I did attach enough to feel as if my own life would end if theirs were to.   As I get older and am misted with the reality of mortality on a daily basis, I wonder if perhaps I was wrong to open myself up to life, or even to live at all.  

Is life worth it?   Are the pleasures, physical and mental, worth the agony of separation and death?   If I had the choice, would I still choose to be born?

And, as none of us do have that choice, how can any of us; politicians, space agencies, corporate executives, criminals; make this cruel world worse for one and many people.   Why, when the end for all of us is looming over our heads, can we not grab each other in a global hug and create havens for ourselves to try to live as safely and peacefully as we can?

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Jill Jackson is a practitioner of kindness and common sense. Unlike her cat, she prefers to think out of the box.

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