Thirty years ago, seven astronauts, seven heroes, seven Americans, lost their lives in service to their country when the Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed shortly after take-off. Like many shuttle launches, this one was broadcast on live television. Millions of Americans, many of them school students, witnessed the destruction of the shuttle as it unfolded, and millions of Americans witnessed first-hand the inherent dangers of space exploration.
Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe were all volunteers, men and women who gave their full measure of devotion to the endeavors of knowledge and discovery. It was once said that “Nothing is stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” And never were those words truer when it came to describing the men and women of the Astronaut Corps. It is tough for many people to imagine the courage and devotion and strength of character needed to be an astronaut. These brave men and women exemplified those virtues to the utmost degree.
Though the loss of the Challenger was indeed a disaster, and though in the weeks and months that followed many difficult decisions were made, America still committed to exploring the heavens and discovering the unknown. Through those dark times, when things were at their worst, America, as is often the case, was at its very best. The sense of wonder and pride in our space program did not diminish; it only grew in strength. Rather than shrink from the challenges that lay ahead, our best and bravest met them head on without fear or hesitation.
We all cannot be astronauts, but we can still honor the legacy of Dick, Mike, Ron, Elly, Judy, Greg, and Christa. It is rather for us to live our lives undaunted, to meet every challenge great or small head-on, to continue forward with that very same spirit of wonder and discovery in all of our endeavors. By living our lives to the fullest, by embracing the spirit of the volunteer, by striving to reach the unattainable, by remembering that “the future does not belong to the faint of heart, it belongs to the bold”, we can ensure that the sacrifice of these courageous explorers was not in vain.
Though the time for mourning may be past, it is nonetheless fitting to look back upon that day with sadness, as for many of us it will forever be in our memories as a reminder that sometimes we lose the best of us too soon; that sometimes, the intrepid spirit of our bravest cannot be restrained.
We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, that morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God.