Friday, January 28, 2011

25 Years Later: Remembering the Challenger Space Shuttle Mission

Every American has embedded in their minds one of those historic moments in which they think, " I remember where I was when such and such happened". For some, it was the bombing of Pearl Harbor, others the assassination of President Kennedy, others the tragedies of 9/11. For others, though, it was the the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle 25 years ago today. This was the 25th mission of NASA's space shuttle program and the 10th mission of the Challenger shuttle. It was to be the first time a civilian was to be in space-- a teacher named Christa McAuliffe. This particular mission was in part focused on studying Hailey's Comet, and McAuliffe was to give several lessons from space, but tragically, less than a minute and a half after liftoff, the shuttle exploded.

After the tragedy, President Reagan shared a message with Americans, quoting from a poem by fighter pilot John G. MaGee, a man who fought in the Royal Canadian Air Force but had a British mother and an American father. He wrote this poem in September of 1941 and died just months later during a training mission:
"High Flight"

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,-and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of-wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew-
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God

The space program has in many ways come to represent American exceptionalism. While space exploration, as with any bold endeavor, does have its horrific moments, it has shown the ingenuity and brilliance of the human mind and has invoked the wonder of millions who are willing to let their curiosity extend beyond this world. This kind of bold exploration and search for innovation has been woven throughout America's history from our founding. Benjamin Franklin discovered the power of electricity with nothing but a kite and a key. Lewis and Clark braved the rivers to make their way west and discover more of what we call America. The innovation of Americans has brought forth the invention of the light bulb and liquid propelled rocket and millions of other inventions. We can look to these men and women whose intrepid spirits and intelligence have helped make America exceptional, and we can choose to embrace the sense of wonder that challenges us to look at all our Creator has made with the wonder of the children that Christa McAuliffe taught.

Crossposted here.

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