The exploration of space is an amazing achievement for humankind. To realize that we have left the planet on which we live and explored what lies beyond its atmosphere is astounding, a dream men and women have had for hundreds of years. But it has not been without its costs.
The last week of January is not a good one for the U.S. space program.
Every astronaut death in the past 48 years has occurred between Jan. 27 and Feb. 1.
On January 27, 1967, Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White died when their Apollo 1 capsule caught fire during a launch pad test,
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch, killing Richard Scobee, Judith Resnick, Elison Onizuka, Michael J. Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair, and Gregory Jarvis.
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated while returning to Earth, claiming the lives of seven more astronauts — Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
That’s 17 Americans in all, lives lost in service to the desire to explore, to find out what’s “out there.” Other nations, particularly the former Soviet Union, have seen their own spaceflight-linked tragedies as well. A terrible price, to be sure.
Yet both the United States and other nations persist in sending people into space. Why?
Because it’s in our very nature to be curious, to go beyond the boundaries. It’s part of what makes us human. Exploring space is the culmination of the legendary sea voyages that led to the discovery of new lands. It’s a choice people have been making since time immemorial.
So while we pause this week to remember all those who have lost their lives in our quest to explore the great vast beyond, we also note that they would want us to do what we’re doing — to carry on.
Per ardua ad astra — Through hardship to the stars.