I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space…

Columbia explosion. I’m having a hard time saying or writing those words, because my fingers, my mouth, my brain, all know the words. “Challenger explosion”, and having to put a new word, a new shuttle, into that space makes me stutter and break.

Several years ago, my dad asked me if there was anything in my generation, a defining moment that we all remembered, like his generation remembered the Kennedy assassination. It took no thought at all to answer, “The Challenger.” My friends, the people I know, the people I’ve spoken with, all have a place of shock and pain inside them that looks like a brilliant white plume with trails coming off it, against a vivid blue sky.

For today’s children, I think the defining moment, the thing they will never be able to forget, will be 9/11, not the Columbia explosion this morning. I can hardly hold that against them, but as shocked as I was when the WTC came down, it didn’t hurt me the way this does. I love the shuttles. I love the space program. I’d been to the WTC, but NY isn’t a place in my heart. The shuttles are.

Rick Husband. Willie McCool. Dave Brown. Laurel Clark. Kalpana Chawla. Mike Anderson. Ilan Ramon. Dick Scobee. Michael Smith. Judith Resnik. Ellison Onizuka. Ronald McNair. Gregory Jarvis. Christa McAuliffe. Gus Grissom. Edward White. Roger Chaffee.

Our alleged leader says:

The cause in which they died will continue. Mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on. (thanks to Bryant for the quote.)

I hope he means it. *God*, I hope he means it. The space program was strangled nearly to death with the Challenger explosion; I desperately do not want the Columbia–I still can’t type that; my fingers spell out ‘Cha–‘ before I can fix it–to be the end of it.

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, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never Lark, or even 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.

– John Gillespie Magee, Jr, 1922-1944

(Thank you, bigsimon, for the idea for the above.)

2 thoughts on “I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space…

  1. As an ardent believer in space exploration, I am saddened by the Columbia disaster. Sadly, the odds were in favor of something like this happening. Our space program has had relatively few such events, especially compared to the Soviet programs.

    What disturbs me the most though, today, is the fatuous news coverage somehow linking people’s emotional reaction to this to what is going on with the impending war on Iraq that seems to be inexorably approaching. Given that it seems likely that today’s incident had nothing to do with terrorism, I was appalled to see reporter after reporter babbling on about how this may effect our foreign policy. To me, it seems to be combining apples and oranges, thereby diminishing the seriousness of both. Other than the fact that casualties of both issues are largely military personnel, they are entirely separate issues and arguments and both deserve serious, thoughtful reflections without cheapening the astronauts memory by babbling on about how the disaster might unify Americans which might carry over in the coming days. The impending conflict with Iraq deserves to be debated and treated with gravity on its own grounds instead of using Columbia as a red herring and illogical distraction.


  2. I woke up Saturday morning and turned on CNN (one of the two channels we mostly get most of the time) to see Bush’s face and hear:

    “… Texas. There were no survivors.”

    My brain went through several iterations of shock/relief/grief before it settled down. I mean, yes: horrible, horrible, awful disaster… but compared to what I initially feared/believed, well. Much relief. They should put in some sort of filter, so you don’t turn on news in the middle of statements like that.

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