2.2.2003 by , every Monday.
In 1981, something amazing happened.
It's one of those things you can just barely remember in later years- one of those early memories that dances on the edge of your awareness, but that you can never quite catch. But the memory is still there, a little boy sitting on the couch with his parents, watching something huge and white and beautiful soar into space on a column of flame, and was forever changed.
It was amazing to a little wide-eyed boy, and amazing to the world at large; the world's first reusable spacecraft, Columbia, flew on her first mission. A new era in space travel had begun.
The years passed. Columbia was eventually part of a five-shuttle fleet- Challenger, Atlantis, Discovery, and prototype Enterprise. The boy would watch every launch on TV, and play with his many shuttle toys, and sometimes find wry amusement in the fact that “Star Trek” fans campaigned so hard to get the one shuttle that would never see space named “Enterprise,” instead of the Columbia. Eventually, the launches grew harder and harder to watch on TV as the public grew used to the reality of the shuttles. But the boy would do his best to see every one, especially the flights of his favorite, Challenger.
When the boy was nine, NASA selected a teacher to go into space. Everyone was excited- schools across America set up televisions so the students could watch. The boy was home with a cold, but had his mother set up a TV, so he could watch his favorite shuttle in its moment of glory.
And it was glorious. It was big and white and beautiful and soaring into the sky, just like the first time. And then, it happened, and everything stopped. The shuttle stopped going up, the newscasters quit talking, everything froze for one terrible heartbreaking moment, as the reality sunk in, as everyone digested the meaning of that huge fireball in the sky. And then bits and pieces rained down, and one boy stared and stared and wouldn't let his mother turn off the TV.
But humanity continued forward. And so the shuttles flew again, and the boy watched with the same glee and wonder as he had the first time he saw men go to dance among the stars.
And the boy grew into a man. And the man became involved in many things, and had little time or interest in seeing something huge and white and beautiful, for there was work to be done and bills to pay.
One day, the man turned on his TV, and saw footage of a star streaking across a beautiful blue sky, and it was huge, and white, and beautiful. It was Columbia. And somewhere inside him, a little boy wept. But he knew that once again, as always, humanity would walk on, remembering its heroes, binding its wounds, and learning from its tragedies. And he knew that the next time would be that much safer.
For far above, the heavens patiently await.
27 January 1967
Virgil "Gus" Ivan Grissom, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Edward Higgins White, II, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Roger Bruce Chaffee, Lieutenant Commander, USN
Challenger (STS 51-L)
28 January 1986
Francis R. Scobee, Commander
Michael J. Smith, Pilot
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist 1
Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist 2
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist 3
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist 1
Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist 2
Columbia (STS 107)
1 February 2003
Rick D. Husband, Commander
William C. McCool, Pilot
Michael P. Anderson, Payload Commander
David M. Brown, Mission Specialist 1
Kalpana Chawla, Mission Specialist 2
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist 4
Ilan Ramon, Payload Specialist 1