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02/01/2003

O' Columbia

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Space Shuttle Columbia

Crap.

I'm a big fan of the space program. I know that sounds kind of dorky. But it's true. I've always been fascinated by the whole concept. I'm thirty nine years old and I grew up as the space program grew up. I watched NASA take it's first steps not much later than I took my own. I was on vacation with my family in July of 1969. I was five years old when my family crowded around a black and white T.V. at my uncle's home in Louisiana to watch the moon landing. Even at five years old, I knew that what was happening was just an incredible and historic event.

I'm just kind of typing this in a stream-of-consiousness manner, not really caring about structure here (I know many of you will say that I NEVER care about structure in my writing). I'm still watching the coverage right now at about 10:45 AM EST. I came back from taking some recyclables to the dump and came back to a T.V. on in an empty family room. The T.V. had a beautiful blue sky with a white contrail slicing diagonally through the screen. I knew exactly what it was. The reason that the family room was empty is that Claudine was consoling Jake after Jake realized what was happening. Apparently he came flying up the stairs to complain that the news interrupted his cartoons on the Saturday Morning FoxBox running on the local Fox station. Claudine turned on the T.V. because Jake said that "something was coming to Earth" (!). Yikes. Claudine asked, "Is it a plane?". Jake replied, "They said it was a spaceship". Man. If the situation wasn't so tragic, that is a hilarious situation. Imagine you found out that aliens were invading because your son came up to complain that the coverage of the invasion was interrupting The Fighting Foodons. Anyway, He was all pissed because he couldn't watch his show while Claudine was assessing the seriousness of the situation. She chided Jake about his reaction because it wasn't appropriate just at about the same time that the announcers spoke about the wives, husbands and children that were waiting at the Cape for the shuttle to land. That triggered something in Jake and he just started bawling. So Claudine took him away from the T.V. right before I came in the house.

There is no doubt that this is a tragedy. But it shouldn't be a shock. Space exploration is an incredibly risky thing. There are a million things that need to go perfectly, thousands of people performing their jobs flawlessly to fly a successful mission. The fact that tragedies like this happen as infrequently as they do is a great testament to the people of NASA. But every astronaut goes into that cockpit knowing that they might not come back. The astronauts for the Mercury, Gemini and even into Apollo missions were test pilots. Their jobs were to climb into risky pieces of machinery and fly them. Their jobs were to take risks. And that bravery and heroism allowed the human race to achieve as never before. And the crew of Columbia was no different.

As a country, the United States has become complacent about the space programs. The Apollo missions had people from across the country - and indeed, around the world - hanging on every mundane event that occurred in space. Now, I'd be surprised if even half the population even knew that their was a shuttle in orbit when they woke up this morning. And that indifference is a interesting thing. As a race, we humans have only been in space for 42 years. But it hasn't even been 100 years since Orville and Wilbur took a twelve second flight. Think about that. We take flying for granted. We take space shuttle missions for granted. But we are mere infants as a space going race.

The seven people who were on Columbia were someone's husband. Someone's wife. Someone's son or daughter. Someone's mother or father. And they were also more than that. They were all of ours. Because they committed themselves to the advancement of mankind. They were taking the risks for all of us.