Space Shuttle OV-999: Slipping the Surly Bonds of Earth

It’s one of those “I’ll never forget where I was, when….” moments.

I was in Pittsburgh, on the second floor of one of the hi-rise office buildings in Gateway Center, in the second year of my reasonably successful career as a salesman in the fledging personal computer market.  The generally unpleasant person in the next cubicle was on the phone, ranting (as usual) at his wife, prompting the inevitable call of “You do know we can all hear you, don’t you, ‘John’?” from the exasperated guy two cubes down.

Someone else got a phone call.

And everything stopped.

We found a television, and gathered round.  And did no more work that day.

The President cancelled his previously-scheduled State of the Union address, and–early that evening–gave one of the most-moving speeches of his Presidency:

It was a terrible blow to the nation, only worsened in the aftermath, which was riddled with questions that shook its faith in in its institutions and exposed shoddy practices and oversights among contractors and at NASA itself.  It was almost three years before another shuttle flight took off from Cape Canaveral, and it’s likely fair to say that the the nation’s confidence in its manned space program never fully recovered.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them–President Ronald Reagan, January 28, 1986

I’m not sure, here early in the third decade of the twenty-first century, if we’ve fulfilled Reagan’s promise, or if his words continue to resonate, even a little, particularly with the young.

But I do know that on January 28, 1986, we woke up believing that the United States of America could achieve anything, anywhere, and that we went to bed that night a little less certain.

God bless the Challenger astronauts: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

May they rest forever in peace.


Leave a Reply