Space is hard, race is hard

Space flight is hard. You know what else is hard? Solving big problems with race in America.

My family and I got up early this morning to watch the 5:49 a.m. launch of SpaceX Dragon Crew-2 mission. Why do people become millionaires investing in a penny stock cryptocurrency because Elon Musk tweets about Dogecoin? It’s not just because Musk is a maestro-level meme troll. It’s because Musk does hard things and succeeds.

Space is hard. I tried one time to view a Space Shuttle launch in person. On January 6, 1986, my brother Jay and I were among the packed crowd lining the causeway entrance road to Cape Canaveral AFS to view the launch of STS-61C. It was the third attempt, after an 18-day break from the previous try, which scrubbed at T-14 seconds.

Everything proceeded normally until T-31 seconds, when Columbia’s computers took over the automatic launch sequence, and halted. Given that there was a 9-minute launch window, and a 20-minute reset procedure to see if the countdown halt was a false reading (as it had been on the previous try), we, along with a few thousand others, realized this was a scrub. After three hours sitting in Cocoa Beach traffic to not watch a launch, we decided not to try again.

It turns out that had STS-61C’s engines started that day, we would have witnessed a terrible spectacle, worse than the one etched in everyone’s memory the very next launch when Challenger broke apart 72 seconds after launch.

Columbia’s launch attempt on 6 January turned out to be one of the most hazardous yet in the shuttle’s five-year operational history. The count was halted at T-31 seconds, following the accidental draining of 4,000 pounds (1,800 kg) of liquid oxygen from the External Tank. The fill and drain valve had not properly closed when commanded to do so. 

If the engines lit with the fill and drain valve open, the shuttle would almost certainly have exploded on the pad. Future NASA Administrator James Bolden was the pilot on the flight.

The first sense that 61C might turn into an impossible mission came during training when Gibson taught Bolden about shuttle systems and aerodynamics and the mysterious concept of “Hoot’s Law”. By his own admission, Bolden struggled during his first few months of mission-specific training; on one occasion, in the simulator, the instructors threw an engine malfunction at the crew. Bolden accidentally shut down the wrong power bus, disabling a healthy main engine. “We went from having one engine down in the orbiter, which we could’ve gotten out of, to having two engines down,” Bolden told the NASA oral historian years later, “and we were in the water, dead.” If this simulation had been for real, the shuttle would indeed have been lost, with all hands.

Gibson turned to Bolden, patted his pilot on the shoulder and spoke. “Charlie, let me tell you about Hoot’s Law.” 

“What’s Hoot’s Law?” 

“No matter how bad things get, you can always make them worse!”

Space flight is hard. America (and other nations along with us) has lost astronauts doing it, and Elon Musk’s success makes it look easier than it is.

You know what else is hard? Solving big problems with race in America.

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday that went where Erick Erickson took the discussion this morning. It’s forbidden to discuss why a thirteen-year-old boy would be roaming the streets of Chicago at 2:30 a.m. with a 22-year-old, both armed, shooting at someone in a car. It’s forbidden because the boy is Black and he was killed by a white policeman doing his job.

Facts are facts, even when they are inconvenient, or when they illuminate hard problems.

Between 1950 and 1991, the number of Black families with a single mother running the household increased from 18 percent to 46 percent.

From 2005 to 2019 the number of Black families with children in single-parent homes has generally been between 64 and 65 percent. That compares with white families at 23 percent, Asians at 17, and hispanic at 35 to 40 percent.

Families with two parents, especially with a father as the head of household, do better. They have more stable incomes, more structure, and better role models. The kids in these families are less likely to fall into crime. They are less likely to end up in jail, or to get women pregnant only to leave the mom and baby behind (creating a strong incentive for abortion).

Why is this? We can start with one of the greatest political transformations of the last 100 years. The Democratic Party simultaneously turned from being the party of Jim Crow to the party of civil rights, and the Great Society. It simultaneously pivoted (remember, Republicans fought for civil rights too) politically by making Republicans look like the racists while handing out cash to Democrat-run cities for a half century.

In the end, Republicans end up looking like racists by opposing Democrats, but it’s Democrats and their anti-family policies that have caused the results we’re seeing today.

But we can’t discuss that, because it’s racist. And race, like space, is hard.


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