I didn’t even know we had a space shuttle landing today. I didn’t even know we had a shuttle in the sky. That’s how little I keep up with our space program. Space shuttles take-off and land all the time – it seemed almost ordinary. Until I was reminded today that what those astronauts do is extraordinary.
Lee and I were in the car, on Interstate 16, with National Public Radio on our dial, but turned down as we were talking. But suddenly, you could tell the tone of the voices on the radio had changed. That’s when we turned up the volume and learned the “space shuttle Columbia has been seen breaking apart in the skies over Texas” as the news was first being reported.
It took a little while for me to realize what was happening. I mean, accidents happen, people die, and it’s very sad every time. But as the news anchor repeatedly said, “For those of you just joining us…” and detailed again the tragedy unfolding, it sunk in. And my heart felt heavy.
Not only did seven people die, but they were people who were brave, incredibly intelligent, and adventurous beyond belief. I was sad such people were lost. I was sad because we were reminded that we do have limitations. Space exploration had been going so well – we are Americans and we can send someone into orbit whenever we please. But we were reminded today that sometimes, they don’t come back. I was sad because even though I hadn’t kept up with ongoing missions, the space program is a source of national pride. Our national pride was scarred again today. I was sad for everyone in the control room who watched the data disappear from the screen and listened to silence.
It wasn’t just a story about the death of seven people. It was a story about the death of seven remarkable souls in very public way, and the failure of one of America’s strengths – especially in a time when we need good news about our country instead of news of war and recession.
My heart was broken for the families that gathered at the landing strip to welcome their loved ones home, who will go home without even a casket. My only comfort is to think that those seven people spent their last living days in an extraordinary way. They truly lived fascinating lives, and lived long enough to fulfill the dreams many boys and girls have when they look up at the sky.