When Columbia & Her Crew
Did Not Come Back to Earth
They died doing what they loved. And before going, they’d done all they’d set themselves to do. Ten years ago today, Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon, got ready to return home.
It wasn’t to be. The Columbia, a 28-mission veteran shuttle that had been their shelter in the sky for 16 days, disintegrated on re-entry, in the final tragedy of the 30-year space program. We lost their lives, NASA lost its craft, but no dream has been sacrificed in the crash.
While it lasted and until its end, in July of 2011, the Shuttle Program did manage to keep the human aspiration of traveling in space very much alive. That despite its limited range and its specific overall mission, which was to build the International Space Station.
Curiously, the Columbia never visited that orbiting outpost where today, as we speak, six astronauts are still keeping vigil. Neither the program itself has been replaced by anything near its long-term original purpose. We’re definitely living an era of diminished expectations.
In a way, the upside of that is that it assigns epic dimensions to the space shuttles, and truly heroic colors to the 350 people who flew on their missions. Given the risks, it’s also amazing that their safety record can be compared favorably to any commercial airline track.
But traveling was never about being safe, anyway. Despite all technical improvements made to the fleet, following the catastrophe of the Challenger, in January of 1986, 17 years later tragedy visited us yet again. NASA’s Remembrance Day today marks the two disasters, plus the fire that killed three Apollo 1 astronauts, in 1967.
It was a high price to pay for the dream of exploring the space that surrounds us. But if you could ask the Columbia Seven, the Challenger Seven, and the Apollo Three, whether they’d like to fly again on these explosive-prone contraptions, you’d probably hear them all say: where do I sign?
We’ve seen already hundreds of humans going to space and come back, during our lifetime. What sets these three crews of astronauts apart from all others, though, is that they went to space. And beyond.
* The Last Apollo
* Welcome Home
* Up, UP & Away