"Space travel is totally unforgiving of human errors or mechanical failures, but it has a larger significance as part of a larger journey to explore beyond our planet." --Professor Jeffrey A. Hoffman of aeronautics and astronautics, who flew five shuttle missions (Boston Globe, Feb. 3).
"You can put your hand on one side and a blowtorch on the other and you don't feel anything. It's like the ultimate trivet to your dining-room table." --Professor of Physics Claude Canizares on the effectiveness of a properly functioning thermal tile like those used on the space shuttle (Kansas City Star, Feb. 3).
"There was some debate [in the early 1990s] about Russian dependability, that their economy and engineering could not be counted on. It's turned out that they have been very reliable, really quite strong compared to us." --President Charles Vest, who headed a panel that reviewed the space station, on the Russian space program (Boston Globe, Feb. 2).
"People forget that the shuttle is always flying at the edge of the envelope." --Professor John Hansman of aeronautics and astronautics (Boston Globe, Feb. 3).
"Shuttles have come down with several missing tiles without serious consequence. It depends where (the tiles are located) in the reentry sequence." --Professor Edward Crawley, head of aeronautics and astronautics (Boston Herald, Feb. 3).
"If they had found damage to the tiles, there's nothing they can do about it anyway." --Professor David Miller of aeronautics and astronautics. (Boston Herald, Feb. 3)
"These people were the best in their field. The loss to the intellectual community is tremendous." --Aero/astro graduate student Erisa K. Hines (Boston Globe, Feb. 4).
"It would be much better to know immediately when it happens, and not have to wait until reentry." --Professor Subra Suresh on the possibility of placing sensors within heat-resistant tiles to alert space shuttle pilots immediately to any damage (Boston Globe, Feb. 4).
"It's one of the most spectacular light shows I've ever seen. You're basically protected by this eggshell."--Hoffman, describing reentry into Earth's atmosphere (Boston Globe, Feb. 4).
"The heat diffuses to a neighboring tile, and they fall off like a zipper unzipping." --Aerodynamics professor Mark Drela on possible scenarios following heat tile loss on the shuttle (Baltimore Sun, Feb. 4).
"One way to limit the risk is to only put people in space when you have to have people in space. To make it a show, like has been done in the past, and to have lots of experiments done by astronauts when they could just as easily be done by robot vehicles, is taking risks that don't need to be taken." --Professor Theodore Postol of the Program on Science, Technology and Society on unmanned space exploration (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, from The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 4).
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 5, 2003.