Friday, February 1, 2013

The Columbia 10 Years Ago Today

Something I wrote today 10 years ago:

The Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed today.  It broke apart upon reentry over Dallas.  All 7 of the crew certainly perished, though so far, no remains have been recovered.  It happened as I awoke this morning.  I was listening to my usual Saturday shows on the radio as the news came over the wires.  I called my mother and brother who heard nothing unusual that morning.  Other news reports out of Dallas reported a series of loud sonic booms.  It seems these catastrophes always happen in the morning as I am just getting up.  I remember when the Challenger exploded in the morning.  The first plane crashed into the WTC September 11th, 2001 as I stepped out of the shower.

I have no mind for mathematics.  I am not mechanically inclined.  Whatever appreciation for science I have is largely aesthetic.  I like traveling less and less as I get older.  I’m getting more phobic (heights, sharp things, fire, etc.) and more timid with each passing year.  My views and politics are probably far to the left of most mechanically inclined prosaic can-do types.  And yet, I have always been an enthusiastic supporter and admirer of space exploration.  That has not changed with today’s catastrophe.  My most vivid and happiest historical childhood memories from the 60s were not of the Counter-Culture (I was far too young and too remote from all that) and certainly were not of the Vietnam War; they were of the Space Program.  I followed all those space flights with relish from John Glenn in Friendship 7 to the last Apollo flight to the moon in 1972.  I even followed all of the now forgotten missions of the Gemini program.  That is the only aspect of the 60s that I feel privileged to have lived through and witnessed.  All of those mighty projects to put men on the moon were ultimately peaceful despite their Cold War motivations.  They brought people together in a great civilizing enterprise of exploration.  They were great works about something other than war or commerce (even though they began in war and benefited commerce).

Exploration was always risky since the first ancient Polynesian or Viking or Phoenician or Chinese or Greek or Arab set sail in uncharted waters.  The bones of lost and luckless explorers litter the frontiers in history.  Space is vast, disorienting, hostile, and implacably alien.  Exploring even our small part of it is lethally dangerous.  People died and will die again trying to push back that frontier; several Russian cosmonauts, the crews of Apollo 1, the Challenger, and now the Columbia.  I am so grateful for people with the courage and spirit to risk their lives to take a small light up into that immense darkness.  I salute all those who try to expand the realm of the possible for all of us puny little mortals; even when they die trying.

May the seven astronauts who died today rest in peace.

Grave of Robert Falcon Scott in the Antarctic


JCF said...

I remember it well. I happened to be out here in Sacramento (I turned in my dissertation, Columbia the last week of January, then flew to California for a late Christmas/birthday, which I'd missed in the frenzy of dissertation completion).

Being on holiday, I'd slept in. But my mom filled me in on the tragedy when I arose (it began to seem like these things only happened when I visited California. 9/11 happened when I was in Sacto, too).

Of course, it took me back 17 years earlier, to when Challenger blew up. I was out later that day (2/03)---it was Free Museum Day, as it is again tomorrow!---and at the "Challenger Science Center", there were fresh flower memorials to Columbia.

So sad. Both accidents.

God bless all our brave explorers, and may those lost in exploration rest in peace.

Unknown said...

I admire those who have the courage to step out of the safety of the everyday and become those who discover the outer regions of our lives.