Thursday, January 28, 2010

Those Who Are About to Die

"Burn the Land, and Boil the Sea - You Can't Take the Sky from Me." Firefly

Fortuna Audaces Iuvat - "Fortune Favors the Bold"


Twenty four years ago today, in the Florida sunshine the space shuttle Challenger roared to the cold sky, its solid rocket boosters burning rapidly towards a failing joint and O-Ring seal that had cracked in the cold. Seventy-three seconds into the flight when the fire reached the joint it blew out the side, and hit the fuel tanks - A fiery blow as if from an angry and fearful god, selfish of his skies. The explosion and resultant fall to sea took the lives of the seven crewmembers, six astronauts and one civilian, who were daring to follow mankind's dream of the stars. Astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judy Resnick, and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe experienced one minute and thirteen seconds of the dream before their lives were cut short in a fireball and they took the bigger journey into the greater unknown. They were not the first to die, finger tips brushing at the black, and they would not be the last.

On January 27th 1967 Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died aboard Apollo 1, still on the launch pad, when a spark ignited the pure oxygen atmosphere of the sealed capsule during pre-flight tests.
On April 24th 1964 Vladimir Komarov reentered the earths atmosphere in the malfunctioning Soyuz 1 capsule and died when the parachute lines tangled plummeting Soyuz 1 into the earth at two hundred miles an hour.
In May of 1967 the crew of Soyuz 11, Georgi Dobrovolsky, Viktor Patsayev, and Vladislav Volkov, died when a malfunctioning valve caused the capsule to depressurize just prior to reentry.

Between then and the morning of January 28th 1986 no astronaut or cosmonaut would die engaged in a mission. Then following that cold January, it would be fifteen years before sacrifice was once more demanded. On February 1st 2003 the crew of the space shuttle Columbia - Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon - died when the shuttle, suffering damage to its protective tiles, blew up over the western United States during reentry. It is quite possible that these seven people knew or at least suspected they were going to die and proceeded ahead, chasing the dream to infinity.
This is not taking account of, but in no way to discount, the sacrifices of test pilots, engineers and others who have died in explosions, plane crashes or as a result of other accidents associated with the various space programs. They are many, and their sacrifice is as great.

We live in a world of sports heroes, movie stars and rock gods. People who, on whole, are shallow, fatuous, and often as not disgusting and disagreeable individuals, more concerned with image, money and whatever “cause of the month” will get them the most attention. Among them are rapists, thieves, murderers, and narcissists of the highest order who have no greater dream or vision. No desire to live for something greater, and certainly, perhaps most certainly of all, no strength to die for something greater.
While those people are made heroes, there are quieter, smarter, stronger men and women who dare to brave the unknown, the unknowable, and the dangerous to chase down what may be the greatest dream of the human race: The secrets of the heavens - The glittering and shimmering unknowns of that great expanse of possibility and hope.
In the end, it will not be the movie gods and rock stars who will carry mankind into the future, into new hope, new worlds. It will not be the sports heroes who open the doors for us all. It will be such quiet people willing to serve a dream, and if necessary, die for it.
It is my prayer, whispered desperately to those heavens, that we will hold on long enough, that they may deliver that dream to us before it is lost to the murky depths of forgotten consciousness.
”Go! at throttle up” the stars are ahead.