It is through the NASA space program that we have come to our current technology, medicine, and understanding of the human condition. We would not have cellular phones, laptop computers.
We would not know the effects of gravity on the aging, how medicines work in our cellular structure. We would not understand how we, mankind, exist in a much larger universe.
In this time of brave exploration we have lost lives of brave men and women, who where scientists, mothers, fathers, teachers, brothers and sisters, musicians. In junior high I bought a telescope to see if I could find the American Flag planted in the sea of tranquility. I fell in love with the moon, planets, and galaxies. In I saw a photo of the first space shuttle as it traveled from Houston, Texas, to Orlando, Florida. I was enthralled to see such a craft.
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I watched like every other American as Columbia first blasted off. I dreamt of being an astronaut. In I watched, along with my classmates as the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off the launch pad with a teacher on board. They scorched into the sky and my class cheered, and then it happened, Challenger burst into pieces right in front of our eyes.
I was sad. I was confused. President Ronald Reagan soothed the nation when he spoke to us all about courage, exploration and what it is to be a free nation. He said they, slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God. Those words stayed with me the rest of my life.
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In when Space Shuttle Columbia, burst into pieces again in front of the entire nation, I felt the same feelings as if happened all over again. What to say? What to do?
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This time President George W. Bush addressed the nation. His words also inspiring. A spacecraft falling from the sky is also news because it is unusual - more so than bombings and catastrophic infrastructure failures. And yet, the seven who died will have known and accepted the risks they undertook. The fact that they were still prepared to seek to extend the boundaries of human knowledge and experience is what ought to impress us.
Space flight is richly aspirational; evocative of destiny and purpose. It symbolises the America everyone wants to love: boundless, ambitious, without precedent. If the coming investigation is as important as that which followed the fall of the Challenger shuttle 17 years ago, it will be crucial. The Challenger catastrophe, it transpired, could have been prevented had a single engineer, Robert Lund, held fast to his veto on the launch. Instead, he was asked by his own management to "think like a manager," and eventually changed his mind.
Among the reasons to "think like a manager" was the shuttle programme's own budget battle with the US Congress. NASA was under pressure to show results. If the Challenger launch went ahead, President Reagan would be able to announce that arrival of the first teacher in space. It was a powerful incentive. Instead, Reagan delivered a very different speech. And, as it happened, delivered one of the great lines in any presidential address: "We will never forget them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.
But the second part: " …slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God," is resonant still. It was suggested by Reagan's speechwriter, Peggy Noonan, but the President was, it seems, already familiar with the poem. Bush's brief speech to the nation was, inevitably, not quite so resonant, but concluded thus:. In the skies today we saw destruction and tragedy. Yet farther than we can see there is comfort and hope.
In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Lift your eyes and look to the heavens.
Project MUSE - Slipping the Surly Bonds
Who created all these? He who brings out the starry hosts one by one and calls them each by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home. The quoted verse seems to suit the moment well enough.
But the Biblical context is quite startling. Isaiah is the Old Testament prophet most loved by millennial Christians, who hold that his 66 chapters of prophecy are mostly allegories for the events of the end times, in which, of course, we are living.