No Words


What do you say? What can you say?

I’ve had a long-standing tradition of writing something on this day. A tradition of marking the anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger and her 51L crew. I haven’t done it every year, but, 24 years later, I’m still doing it. I remember their loss, and honor their sacrifice. And take a look at where we are, where we’re going. What we’ve done with the price they paid.

And the truth is, this year, today, January 28, 2010, I have no idea where we are, or where we’re going. Everything NASA is doing in the area of human space exploration and development is in flux. This is the last time I will write one of these during the space shuttle era. The lifespan of the International Space Station is under debate. If the news is to be believed, the program the agency has been working on for the last six years is about to be cancelled; six years of work and progress abandoned. A vehicle that was tested successfully three months ago about to be dropped. The moon is slipping away. And in their place, who knows?

So what would we say to Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe? What would we tell them about what their sacrifice meant? What would we tell them about how we are honoring their legacy? About how their journey continues today?

“Thanks, guys”? Somehow, it seems a bit insufficient, inadequate.

Late last year, President Barack Obama spoke to an audience of West Point cadets, about U.S. military activity, primarily in Aghanistan. During the speech, he told them, “As your commander in chief, I owe you a mission that is clearly defined, and worthy of your service.”

Would that we could say the same to the seven astronauts who gave their lives 24 years ago today, and to Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, and Rick Husband, Willie McCool, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Mike Anderson, Laurel Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

Would that we could say the same to their families.

Would that we could say the same to those willing today to make the same sacrifice.

Would that we could say the same to the children who lack the inspiration to be the scientists, engineers and explorers of tomorrow.

Right now, the future is unwritten. Right now, the possibilities are endless.

As a nation, what do we say?

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