Remembering the Columbia Disaster

One troubling moral dilemma remains…

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Comments (24)

(21) Rob Mahaffy, February 10, 2013 4:04 AM

Respectfully Disagree

I respectfully disagree with your disagreement. There's an old saying "If a man is convinced he is going to die, he will find a way for it to happen." As someone who has 21 years of military experience, I can tell you that you never tell someone that theirs is a suicide mission as they will then know the outcome and stop looking for ways to get out alive. This is the same. The ground controller didn't know, but suspected what was going to happen. He didn't know, couldn't know that maybe his information was wrong, maybe there was something that they hadn't thought of that the crew might have. To bring the lesson home, how many cancer patients are told that there is no hope only to get a second opinion, fight and make it through. I don't ever want to be told that I'm in a hopeless situation. I will fight and never give up even if the odds are against me. This is human nature.

(20) TMay, February 9, 2013 10:19 PM

the commander

I agree with the commander. The law gives extra damages to people who knew they were dying than if they didn't. It would have caused panic and anguish. They had already said goodbye to their families knowing they were leaving on a dangerous mission. What I am saying is situational.

(19) Amber, February 8, 2013 5:01 PM

I wouldn't tell them

Everyone goes through the stages of grief & death (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) at different paces. No one on the shuttle would reach acceptance (& peace) within that hour or 2 hours before they died. They would have died while angry, depressed, frightened. I don't think I could do that to a group of people: create their final moments to be one or pure sadness & emotional anguish. The astronauts were happy, excited and content with life when they passed....they thought they were going to reach Earth. I don't think I could bring myself to disrupt those final moments of elation.

(18) miriam, February 7, 2013 8:30 PM

why are we here?

If you are afraid of death and dying and you believe we are only here to enjoy, then you probably dont agree with the Rabbi. However, if you embrace the cycle of life and death and you understand that this world is not for pleasure, but for gaining points for the World To Come, then yes Rabbi- I totally agree with you. (read Mesillas Yisharim)

(17) Asaf, February 7, 2013 8:09 PM

Great question

I am not sure I would want to know if I were the astronauts and not sure I would have told them if I was NASA. It is certainly a moral dilemma. Either way, NASA only had a few moments to make the decision and the astronauts knew the risk. I don't know the answer but I do know, this was a great video and a great question

(16) Steve Singer, February 7, 2013 4:29 PM

I agree with the mission commander's decision

The right decision may never be known and I do not believe there is precise biblical guidance for a situation such as this. My heart (and biblical knowledge) tells me that informing the astronauts that they had only minutes left to live before they burned to death would only terrify them and make their last moments on earth very unpleasant. As a loving parent, I personally would not tell my children of such an impending event, I would just try to love them even more for those final minutes and prevent their unnecessary suffering.

(15) Murray Sanders, February 6, 2013 10:09 PM

I agree with Rabbi Solomon. I would like to know if I were about to die.

(14) Simcha, February 6, 2013 6:19 AM

Remember the People

Even sitting here in my comfortable home, I understand that each and every moment is a gift of HaShem and that it could be my last. How much more so for people who are in dangerous situations. The crew of Columbia, zicron l'brucha, were keenly aware that that they could die at any second as they were not the first to die in the space program. While they may not have know the exact moment, they surely were prepared. I think second guessing this is cruel. What good does it accomplish? The focus should be on the folks who died, not a useful academic exercise. May we remember the crew of the Columbia and may they sit close to HaShem's throne throne as we remember them. Maybe that's something to think about?

Jeff, February 7, 2013 5:48 PM

Discussion and Memory

Simcha, with respect: Every time one discusses the deaths of these heroes and tries to explore the moral and philosophical issues arising from this accident, one helps to keep the astronauts alive in our memories. As with every tragic loss, the question always comes up: How could this have happened? What purpose could it serve in Hashem's great plan? Of course, we cannot know the answer to this, as we can't presume to fathom the intricacies of Hashem's reasoning. But we can, at least, use this event as an opportunity to further explore the meaning and purpose of mankind's existence on earth. Far from an "academic exercise", Rabbi Salomon's discussion (among others) is an intellectual and emotional meditation on our relationships with, and obligations to, our fellow humans (bein adam l'adam) and our relationship with Hashem (bein adam l'Makom). The men and women of Columbia went into space to help broaden the spectrum of mankind's knowledge. What better tribute than to demonstrate that, even now, they continue to teach us?

(13) Richard Carter, February 6, 2013 4:28 AM

I agree and would insist it be done

How many things when a spouse or friend or whomever ... I wish I had the chance to tell ...

(12) Pam, February 6, 2013 3:20 AM

Difficult decisions merit deep thought

I realize that making a difficult decision is not easy. Being a commander, a loved one, a friend brings responsibility. When the surgeon came out to tell us that my father's biopsy surgery went well, and we'd wait to see what the test results were, I asked him plainly: "In your medical opinion, do you believe the tumor is cancerous?" He said yes. None of my siblings told my father. No one wanted to be the bearer of bad news. As I sat with him that evening, I could see the request in his eyes. I told him what the surgeon had said. Thanks be to G_d, he lived four more months, was in little pain, and died in his sleep at age 85. During those months, he had time to reconnect with all those he loved and cared for all his life. Although this is not the same as having only a few moments to reflect and perhaps not being able to send communication to their loved ones via modern methods, I believe they should have had the opportunity to spend whatever time they had in preparing themselves. Telling my dad he was most likely terminal was a difficult thing. Commanders, loved ones, and friends should consider difficult situations ahead of time as there is not always the luxury for thinking things through when a situation arises and some of those decisions are irrevocable.

(11) Kathleen Ball, February 6, 2013 3:06 AM

I agree

I agree that the astronauts should have been told so that they could spend their last moments preparing to meet G_d.

(10) Anonymous, February 5, 2013 8:04 PM

yes, they should have been told.

they should have been told, yes it would have caused them much emotional anguish etc, but I am sure Ilan Ramon and the non jewish astronauts would have prayed to their final moments.

(9) Jeff, February 5, 2013 7:50 PM

To know, for better or worse.

What an unimaginably horrible situation to be in! Both for the Commander in charge of the mission and for the crew about to face death. I do not know what I would do if I were a crew member, told I was likely about to die: Write a note to my family? Say the Shema? Just sit there in shock? Or scream, panic and lose control of my bodily functions? Maybe it's that last, less "noble" option, that the mission commander hoped to avoid. But each of those astronauts were heroes; achievers; leaders in their fields. Each of them excelled in life, and so earned a coveted berth on a NASA shuttle. And so I agree with the Rabbi that they earned the right to know their likely fate. Each deserved the chance to end his or her life on his/her own terms -- Not for fame or recognition (for no one would ever know what went on, in those last moments), but for a last opportunity at self-actualization and the improvement of his or her neshama (soul) before journeying on to olam habah, the next world.

(8) Melanie Vliet, February 5, 2013 6:47 PM

I Agree

I agree, as I virtually always do, with the wise Rabbi Salomon. I have sometimes thought that it is a blessing not to know in advance what will happen in our lives. However, when only a little time remains, and we can make no decisions that would alter that outcome, I think that we have a right to know. It may be that someone had a desire to have a certain thought in mind at the end of his life. Perhaps someone needed to forgive one against whom he held a grudge. One might wish to pray for his family as they would be faced with life without him. They deserved to know so that they might do mentally and spiritually and emotionally, if not physically, what was important to them.

(7) Richard C, February 5, 2013 6:19 PM

Not this time

I usually agree with the rabbi, but not this time.

(6) Wanda Dougherty, February 5, 2013 5:27 PM

They should be told

I believe the astronauts should have been told that they might die. That would have given them time to pray and think of their loved ones. I would want to know if I were in a similiar situation.

(5) Anonymous, February 5, 2013 5:03 PM

we learned from the story of king chizkiyahu and the prophet yeshaya when he came tell him that he was going to die. The king said we have a saying from king David even if the sword is at your throat don't stop praying.

RH, February 7, 2013 4:43 PM

Right on! I think this is the most important lesson to be learned here. The power of prayer to accomplish what seems impossible. Even if the outcome is undesirable, the fact that we turn to Hashem in such a time has benefits for all of humanity. We are not living for ourselves only, but for others as well. Every good deed has a ripple effect.

(4) JBDestiny, February 5, 2013 4:56 PM

Command means responsibility, not democracy

This is one of the most difficult things to accept - that the commander is in charge. Everyone else places themselves in his/her hands, he decides and there is no time, place or necessity for consensus. And even though in a non-crisis situation you may believe that you want to know, that not knowing would be worse, there is no way to know at the time of disaster if that is in fact what you want. My fervent opinion on this is that I am grateful I wasn't the person to make the call, and I pray G/d is merciful and doesn't ever put me in that position. Because, no, I don't know what I would do and frankly and respectfully, neither does the Rabbi.

Anonymous, February 7, 2013 4:48 PM

Yes the Rabbi does know what to do! He is not a Rabbi for nothing. He has studied Torah under great Rabbis who taught him how to view such a situation. Torah, the ultimate truth is a guide to all who seek the truth, particularly to those who study it diligently and accept its ways unconditionally as the Rabbi does. Hopefully we can all reach that level and achieve the clarity that the Rabbi displays.

(3) J.D., February 5, 2013 3:42 AM

On the side of merit

This is one of the toughest calls anyone could have to make. I don't know what I would do, but I believe there is some support for not telling the astronauts. Two major issues Hashem hid from human knowledge - the time of the redemption, and the time of each individual's departure from this world. If Hashem sees fit to (usually) not tell us when we're about to go then maybe that is a support for the commander's decision. But stronger than that I believe is the golden rule Do Unto Others - the anxiety of knowing one is about to die in a few minutes must be one of the most uneasy feelings imaginable. If the commander wouldn't want to know, if he was in their situation, then he was treating them as *he* would want to be treated.

(2) Sharon, February 4, 2013 10:43 PM

Can't agree with the Rabbi here

First of all telling them would create a great deal of emotional pain with no possibility of properly parting from family members. They didn't have private cell phones obviously. Also, a space ship is not quite a plane trip so everyone knew that there were considerable risks and hopefully they said what they needed to say to their loved ones before boarding the spacecraft. And even though the captain claims to have known from early on that there was a danger, I'm sure that he was far from certain, so he couldn't create an upheaval which might have been unnecessary.

(1) Alan S., February 3, 2013 11:24 AM

Rabbi, you said it perfectly. In my humble opinion too, it should not have been just one man's decision to make, regardless of whether he was the captain.


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