Trying and doing since 2001
for 7 February 2003.

RIP, Columbia


I never expected that a space-themed

rant would have been timely.

It is even more strange that it

took my lazy butt a couple months

to actually sit down and write

something about my space travel-like

existence. Whatever the case,

however the events intersected

they did and here I am, writing

more space thoughts. Normally

I am pretty eager to talk about

my thoughts with friends, especially

after a few beers. Over this

past week though I really haven't

said much about Columbia. I find

it just too disturbing. At lunch

time as I wait for the microwave

to produce hot leftovers for efficient

and convenient worktime consumption

I like to look over the stack

of newspapers that accumulate

on the tables in the lounge.

The most recent headlines have

been hard to read. "NASA may

have erred", "Columbia is lost",

"NASA: All signs point to tiles".

I usually have to stop before

I start sobbing at work. These

morbid titles conjure images of

hopeful youth staring at stars,

math students hoping to someday

work at JPL, and the faces of

the 7 dead astronauts smiling

broadly in a NASA photo looking

like an awkward, gifted high school

class rather than pilots of a

spacecraft. Why do these images

move me? 7 dead in contrast to

how many Afghanis, Sumalies, future

Iraqis. Even the 3,000 dead in

the World Trade Center did not

bother me as much as these 7 people.

Thinking about this I first assumed

I must be Satan. Why would I

so callously discard the innocents

of the World Trade Center or the

extreme suffering of oppressed

and marginalized people if I wasn't

Beelzebub himself? The small

bit of discussion I have had with

my peers tells me why this small

group is so powerful. "Where

were you when JFK was shot?"

That is the question of the previous

generation. Mom knows, Dad knows.

Grandma knows. I don't know.

Heaven? Nowhere? In a previous

life? "Where were you when Challenger

exploded?" I was 7 years old

in my first grade class. The

television in the room was turned

on so that we all could watch

the first teacher leave for space.

A civilian realizing her dream

of spaceflight. I didn't really

understand what was going on at

the time but I remember what happened

and have thought about it since.

So have many other people my age.

The tragedy of Challenger made

Space a focal point in my life.

Something very special and cherished.

It cemented the cold war propaganda

firmly in my mind. Space is our

future and the Shuttle is making

it happen. It helps that of all

the other Stars and Stripes American

legends and myths the heroes of

the space program have remained

pure. JFK was a womanizer, Babe

Ruth a drinker, Thomas Jefferson

owned slaves. Neil Armstrong,

well, he walked on the moon.

John Glenn became a senator and

returned to space. Christa McCullough

has remained a respected figure

of simple tragedy. No post-humous

scandal has ruined what she stands

for, a common person who worked

to educate people and who died

in an attempt to fulfill her dreams.

Of all the real-life heroes the

astronauts have continued to represent

what a person is capable of if

they pursue a dream with enough

dedication without the noise of

controversy. It is true that

NASA itself is mired in debate.

The value of the manned space

program is also contested. NASA

missions routinely include classified

military projects. The people

themselves, however, stay people.

The symbolic meaning of the astronauts

as humans on a quest for discovery

of things previously outside the

realm of personal experience is

a positive factor in my life that

few other things can rival. But

as disturbing as the loss of Columbia

is I feel that the risk of spaceflight

is both understood and accentuates

the achievement of the space program.

If anything I have not talked

about the explosion because I

just need time to grieve and not

debate. JFK, the president who

brought us the Space Age, said

it best. We do these "things not

because they are easy but because

they are hard." Exactly.

courtesy of John Winters

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