This week marks the 44th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire, the 25th anniversary of the Challenger accident, and the 8th anniversary of the Columbia accident.
Each of these accidents were heavily publicized and widely mourned, with the latter two happening (essentially) live on television. Even though much time has passed, the accidents are well known to the general public, and even many people who are not space buffs could probably at least come close to identifying the official cause of each accident.
In each case, though, the wreckage was retrieved and studied, lessons were (mostly) learned and put into practice, and the affected programs continued on. But what would happen if a spacecraft and its crew were lost tens of millions of miles from Earth, where there were no ground-based cameras and radar watching, no clues from telemetry data, and no way to retrieve and study the wreckage?
This is exactly the problem which confronts the fictional Ares Project two decades before the events of In the Shadow of Ares. So how did they handle it?
The program was halted for four years so that the habs and Earth-return vehicles under construction on Earth could be thoroughly inspected and their designs reassessed for hidden flaws. Finding none, and still having no solid evidence of what happened to the Odysseus and its crew, the project proceeded cautiously with the remaining two missions. And as it turned out, the program was right to accept the still-unknown risks inherent in exploration rather than give up and stay home.
One big difference between then and then: with no images of the accident, and no wreckage found by the subsequent missions, the public soon forgot about Ares III. Except for a few who kept the memory alive until an answer could be found…
(For those who have read the book and may be wondering, we devised Odysseus‘ demise exactly fifty weeks before Columbia met her own.)