It's hard to believe that the Challenger was destroyed five years ago. I still remember that day like it was yesterday, even though one quarter of my life has passed since then.
I was in high school at lunch when it happened, but I didn't hear about it until I arrived in class. There were a lot of rumors being mumbled. What I heard caused a small cold spot to form in my chest, but I also heard things that gave me some hope. Perhaps the shuttle had achieved orbit; maybe it was lying on the bottom of the ocean, still pressurized; It could have been all untrue. I wanted to believe that everything was all right.
Later that day, I went to one of the most intelligent men I know, my astronomy teacher John Clayton. I asked him if he knew anything about what had happened. He quietly replied that he didn't. I asked about the rumors that I had heard. Mr. Clayton was silent for a moment before he told me that he had seen the replays. He shook his head as he informed me that he saw no way that anyone could have survived. The cold in my chest expanded some more. I went on to my last class of the day, but I still refused to believe it.
As soon as I got home, I went down into the basement and turned on the
TV. I saw Tom Brokaw on the screen with a solemn look on his face, and the
coldness in my chest grew even larger. It wasn't long until I saw a replay
of the accident. I watched the Space Shuttle Challenger disappear into a
white and orange fireball. The cold area spread through my body and I went
numb. I slowly sat down on the couch and cried.
It's been over 12 years since I last put down the pencil on this essay. I had always been meaning to finish it, to say how I had always dreamed of going into space some day, and how I questioned that dream. I questioned it, and quickly answered that I was still going. Though the dream was wounded, it continued to live.
Since then, I've let some people see that first part of the essay. Some were moved by it. Others mocked it, to a point that nearly drove me to rage. I have always continued that dream, though, that dream that someday I would walk among the heavens.
I committed a crime, though, the same crime I committed in 1986: a crime of complacency.
Saturday, February 1, 2003 was another dark day. Another spaceship fell to earth in pieces, and another seven souls ascended to heaven on the wings of angels instead of the flames of technology. I did not find out until a few hours after the incident, as my sleep schedule does not have me awake at that time of day. I read my email, and saw a message asking me to pray for the crew of STS-107 and their families.
I muttered a curse, that cold feeling in my belly returning from 17 years ago, and loaded news related web pages, while I turned on the TV. Again and again, I watched the bright streak slice through blue sky over Texas, and watched it separate into several streaks. At 2:00 our President came on, and somberly stated, "Columbia is Lost. There are no survivors."
Again, I cried.
Since 1986, I have grown a lot. I'm twice as old now as I was then, and I hope that I'm at least twice as wise. I've seen many more disasters; numerous plane crashes, wars in countries on the other side of the world, and terrible attacks in the United States, in Oklahoma City, and New York City. Somehow all this has not made me feel numb to all the suffering that happens, and I feel great pain whenever I hear of tragedies like this. Incidents like the Challenger and Columbia, however, strike right at my heart, though.
As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be an astronaut. I recall when I was four, drawing a series of pictures showing the different stages of a rocket going up to the Moon and coming back. I watched in rapt awe when Columbia first lifted off in 1981. I even followed the Soviet/Russian space program, finding out about Soyuz launches, and the construction of Mir.
Always I dream about soaring up into the depths of Space, thinking about marvels of technology that I hope will come about in my lifetime. My complacency was a crime, though, as I neglected to recognize the miracles that have already occurred. On Februay 2, I read a comic strip drawn by an artist and friend of mine named B.J. Hiorns, that reminded me just how much I had neglected, and just how much I had let my dream become a flight of fancy.
So once again, I have a Wounded Dream, but it is not fatally struck. I know now not to take things for granted. I know that if you do not run, you will never gain on that which you pursue. I know that if you do not reach for the stars, you'll never take hold of them.