Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, a day where an ordinary American school teacher was rocketing into space, carrying with her the hopes and dreams of schoolchildren everywhere.
I remember that day. I remember being home from school sick with a cold, sitting up to watch the launch because I have always been a fanatic for aerospace. I remember watching Discovery roll and hearing the flight controller say "Challenger, you are go for throttle up" and hearing Discovery pilot Francis Scobee acknowledgeing the transmission. My next memory is that close-up shot of Challenger exploding and of the shocked expression of a man with a mustache staring at all his suddenly bright screens, and the stunned voice of one of the flight engineers saying "I have just lost all telemetry from the vehicle" or something like that. I shared the disbelief, the shock and the tears. I shared the demand for answers and also yearned to see the Shuttle fly again.
It was a feeling that I had hoped I would never feel again, an experience that I had never wanted another crew and another generation to feel. Enter Columbia and September 11th, 2001. Yet again we lose a shuttle and it's crew and my beloved aerospace is used to inflict one of the worst mass loss in US history. Technology is neutral, it is what we humans make of it that turns it good or bad.
Going into space is always worth the price, always worth the effort because having all of our eggs in one basket is suicide. There are vast riches awaiting us in the asteroid belt and on the Moon. There are mysteries to be solved on Mars, colonies to be built in orbit, in the same asteroid belt, on Mars and other places. The lives of the lost crews of Columbia and Challenger must not be allowed to cause us to once again allow war and peety near sightedness to keep us from going back to the moon, to Mars, and out further.
We must remember the crews of Challenger and Columbia as heroes, as people who challeneged spaceflight and were let down by a mangement ethic that took no heed of repeated warnings about the O-rings or who allowed the shuttle to reenter the atmosphere with fatal damage. Hopefully NASA has learned from these disaters and will take steps to keep such things from happening again. We will hold dear the dreams of Christa McCauliffe who had a vision of perfectly ordinary AQmericans being able to go into space without needing to be astronauts. And I still hold dear the dreams of a young JROTC cadet who loked upwards and dreamed of things like MACH 3 planes, colonies in space, and wondered if somewhere out there there might be another kid like him, wondering the same things.
We must also remember the crew and passengers of UA Flight 93 who decided to fight back on that September day, showing that true American spirit that John Wayne would have been proud of and that the powers of darkness cannot stand against: The simple desire to fight back, to make the bad guys pay dearly for taking something that was never theirs to take. To those brave souls who were as determined as any service member to not go without a fight and to our lost crews of Apollo1, Challenger, and Columbia we have a duty to keep going, to make the world a safer freer place, and to deliver a singular message to the likes of Osama out there: Kill us, maim us but you cannot crush the human desire to live free.
And to those in my own country who give aid and comfort to teh extremists who want our way of live swept from the Earth I will remind them that spitting in the wind comes back to you twice as hard and will cost you politically in the upcoming elections.
Remeber Apollo 1. Remember Challenger. Remember Columbia. Remeber Flight 93.
They are the true expression of what America stands for.