|:: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 ::|
Over the past 18 years, I have often marked the anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger by writing a brief remembrance. Below are a few thougts from this year:
One year ago, the pain was in the past.
One year ago, the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew on January 28, 1986 was a scar from a wound distant but still remembered, not completely healed.
As I paid tribute a year ago today to those who had given their lives 17 years earlier, I had no idea that just days later, the wound would be re-opened.
That days later, seven more would also make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause to which they dedicated their lives.
The hurt was very different this time. The loss of Challenger was a national tragedy. The loss of Columbia was death in the family. I had not personally met any of the seven men and women who died on February 1, 2003. But I know and have worked with those who did; I have seen the hurt of those who lost friends that day.
And STS-107 may well be the last time I have the luxury of anonymity. When the Shuttle fleet returns to flight, faces familiar to me will fly aboard the next three missions.
We are in the midst of NASA’s darkest week, in the midst of a period of a mere six days filled with too many anniversaries, too many remembrances. Seventeen lives lost in the last 37 years.
On January 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in the Apollo I pad fire during ground tests for their upcoming mission.
On January 28, 1986, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Greg Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe were killed during the 51-L mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger when the Shuttle was lost 72 seconds into flight.
On February 1, 2003, Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Dave Brown, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, and Ilan Ramon were killed during the STS-107 mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia when the orbiter disintegrated during re-entry.
Too many anniversaries, too many remembrances. Too close together.
But today, NASA is preparing to remember fallen heroes in a fitting manner. Today, with a plan for the future, NASA is poised to honor their legacy.
Like any good agenda, NASA's plan includes both old business and new business.
Old business like returning the Shuttle fleet to flight.
Old business like an unfinished mission from 18 years ago. Christa McAuliffe lost her life on her way to be the first teacher in space. Soon, her dream will be fulfilled. Eighteen years ago, Barbara Morgan was the backup for Christa, prepared to step in if needed. On STS-118, that time will finally arrive. This time, however, Barbara Morgan is not a “teacher in space.” She is an astronaut—a fully trained, fully prepared member of the corps. Her first flight will be no publicity stunt, but a first step in a new era of inspiring the next generation of explorers. And she will be followed by others—a new group of educator astronauts has already been selected, and will be announced soon along with their fellow members of the astronaut class of 2004.
Old business like the legacy of a mission from one year ago. The STS-107 crew of Columbia lost their lives in pursuit of performing science on the frontier. They carried with them some 80 experiments, seeking in the unique environment of microgravity everything from clues to new cures for diseases to ways to create more efficient engines. Looking in space for new ways to improve life on Earth.
Even as they flew, a better way was already under development. Even before its launch, STS-107 was already likely to be the last of its kind—the last science laboratory mission of the Space Shuttle. Already, that science was being performed aboard the International Space Station, still very much a work in progress. What better way to honor their legacy than to see that work in progress through.
And, then, on to new business.
For the three men who were NASA’s first to give their lives in the cause of space exploration, even the new business would sound much like old business.
Grissom, White, and Chaffee died in preparations for what was to be the next step toward landing a man on the Moon.
Today, NASA is rededicated to that goal.
But, make no mistake, this new initiative is about far more than old business. It is about far more than landing a man on the Moon. It is about exploration; about opening the door into the unknown.
The Apollo program was about a goal to be met—“before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”
This new exploration initiative, on the other hand, is about taking first steps—“We do not know where this journey will end, yet we know this: human beings are headed into the cosmos.”
Apollo was finite. Exploration is infinite. New business, indeed.
Three weeks before he was killed in the Apollo I fire, Gus Grissom said, "If we die, do not mourn for us. This is a risky business we're in, and we accept those risks. The space program is too valuable to this country to be halted for too long if a disaster should ever happen."
The same could be said for all who have followed. They knew the risks, and accepted them. They braved the danger, because they felt it was worth it. To honor them, we, as a nation, can do no less. Their legacy is in our hands.
This week, we honor fallen heroes.
But to truly honor them, and their legacy, let us look not only to the past, but also to the future.
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