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By Michael Angier

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Some Thoughts on the Loss of Columbia

My wife and I have only seen one shuttle launch—STS 75 in 1996. It was seven years ago this month and it was Columbia. There have been 32 shuttle launches since then. Unfortunately there have been only 31 landings.

The demise of the seven crew members aboard the space shuttle was tragic. The world mourns and our sympathies go out to all the friends and family who knew our brave astronauts.

When someone makes a permanent departure from the planet, it's sad for those left behind. To have such a spectacular accident occur with wreckage strewn across hundreds of miles of our southern states makes it even more grievous.

The memory of that fireball streaking across the sky—like the burning twin towers—will be with us for the rest of our lives.

I was stunned by the tragedy. But it wasn't until I sat down to write these words that I realized how emotional it was for me. No tears had come—until today.

Any significant event has things to teach us, and this one is no different. Here are a few of my thoughts as I reflect upon what's happened and some of what we might draw from it.

They Were Heroes
We consider all our astronauts to be heroes. They don't have to be killed or injured to make them so. They take risks, they serve our country and our world and for that alone they are rightly deemed heroes.

Firefighters, policemen, rescue workers and all who risk their lives to save others are heroes, too. So also are teachers who educate and inspire others, medical personnel who treat the sick and leaders who actually lead. We are surrounded by heroes.

I couldn't help but think about the families of the five Marines killed in a helicopter crash recently in Afghanistan. Hardly anyone remembers their names because their deaths were less public and the accident less dramatic than Columbia's. But they are heroes nonetheless.

Risks
Anything worthwhile requires risk. It seems the greater the aspiration, the greater the risk. For most of us, going after our dreams only requires that we risk failure—perhaps embarrassment or financial loss. Our space explorers took, and will continue to take, the ultimate risk—that of life itself.

Little Things Matter
As I write this article, it's unclear exactly what caused the crash of Columbia, but I'm sure it will be determined. It's likely a seemingly insignificant thing created a series of events that led to a very big thing.

Like our own lives, our destinations are the result of what often appear as little things. But, as Bruce Barton wrote, "Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things . . . I am tempted to think . . . there are no little things."

Take Nothing for Granted
We've been in space for over 40 years and for many, it had become "routine." But nothing about space travel is routine.

And nothing about our lives should be routine either. I am committed to take nothing for granted. We should never become complacent. Life is far too precious and many before us have paid too dearly for what we have.

We Move On
No matter the tragedy, no matter the price, we move on. We always have. If we're smart, we learn what we can from whatever happens and go forward with the benefits of that knowledge.

In the wake of yet another national tragedy, I remain convinced the human spirit is invincible.

Let us remember of ALL our heroes; all gave some, some gave all.

 

 

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Last Updated 01/30/2004