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To touch the face of God

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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.

space-shuttle-challengers-final-lift-off

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2 Comments

  1. ausworkshop says:

    Thirty years ago I was 10 years old and I still remember the day clearly. It was very hot here, I was sitting at the dinner table watching the news, we had our Uncle and Auntie over for dinner. I was sitting at the other end of the table to make room for them, we were eating fish and chips and garden salad. I think I’d been swimming in the pool earlier that day because I had my swimming shorts on. I guess it was morning in America so the news had come through to us pretty quickly in time for the evening news.
    It probably affected me more than I knew at the time. I remember my Auntie was pretty upset about it all.
    Amazing that it’s been 30 years yet it is still so vivid in memory. I felt really sad for the mother and father of the teacher as they gazed up in the sky in disbelief at first. Still remember the fur hat she was wearing on that icy cold morning. I think it’s probably the first time I realised that when it’s our hot summer here it’s your winter over there.
    A very tragic day and the sadness was felt worldwide that’s for sure.

    • billlattpa says:

      I was 12 yrs old, in 7th grade. I went to a Catholic school, and NASA had arranged for many of the public schools to receive the live feed of the launch. We were one of the few Catholic schools in the area to get the feed. Once the explosion happened there was lots of confusion, and I remember some of the teachers saying that we still weren’t sure what happened, but it was pretty obvious.
      There were lots of tough kids in my school, but even they managed to be respectful, in particular after seeing Christa Macauliffe’s parents, who were obviously shattered but remained composed. That moved a lot of people.
      Afterwards, I remember my class was supposed to write our first ever “high school level” essay about any topic we wished. Nearly all of the kids chose to write about the space program. Normally that would have upset our teacher, as she would have liked it to be about a diverse number of topics, but it was very fitting at the time.
      Mostly, I remember that as big a tragedy as it was, it sparked an interest in space exploration, which at the time seemed so commonplace. Few people realized what a monumental and dangerous task it was to put people in outer space.
      I wasn’t for a few years until the next shuttle was launched. I think I was in my second year of high school, but it was a proud day for many Americans.
      Thanks
      Bill

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