Trying and doing since 2001
for 7 February 2003.
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