Since 2012, we at Take Back the Sky have been leading a grassroots effort to convince SpaceX to name the first of its manned space capsules after Serenity, the fictional spaceship from Joss Whedon’s science-fiction television series Firefly and feature film Serenity. Despite the fact that we’ve devoted a lot of space as of late (yes, the pun is intended) to covering the many launches that SpaceX has completed so far this year, we still think it’s important that we not lose sight of our raison d’être. To that end, here are ten good reasons why we believe the first manned SpaceX Dragon should be named Serenity…
Every year, we observe a week of very rough anniversaries in the space community. It begins on January 27, the anniversary of the flash fire that killed three Apollo 1 astronauts in the cockpit of their capsule during a launch pad test in 1967. The following day, January 28, is the date on which the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch in 1986, killing all seven crew members aboard. The week of remembrance concludes today– February 1, the date on which the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during reentry in 2003, again claiming the lives of all seven crew members.
This year, the brave astronauts who were lost in all three of these accidents were remembered at a special ceremony at Cape Canaveral on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 tragedy, at which the original hatch from that Apollo 1 capsule, long kept in storage and out of the public eye, was unveiled for the first time as part of a new display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex designed to honor America’s fallen astronauts and remind all of us that it is indeed a rough road that leads to the stars.
Over the past four years, we at Take Back the Sky have written at length about these tragedies and the brave men and women who lost their lives as a result of them. (You can find those posts by searching the January/February archives on the home page.) As we honor their memory again this year, it’s both appropriate and important that we recognize that their bravery went beyond a mere willingness to risk their lives, and was instead a willingness to die trying on behalf of the whole human race.
Of course, a large part of the legacy of Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia is that they led to improvements in the vehicles and techniques used to send people into the black, which in turn made subsequent missions both safer and more efficient. But their legacy also serves as a reminder to us that if we are to become a multi-planet species, then going to space has to be something for which we’re willing to pay the ultimate price. We will always mourn the loss of brave, intelligent men and women, but if we as human beings truly wish to live among the stars, then we must believe that doing so is important enough that we are also willing to die there. Fortunately for us, and especially for future generations, the men and women of NASA’s Astronaut Corps understand that and still hold to it with every fiber of their being. That’s just one of the many things that makes them the “Big Damn Heroes” that they are.
So, as we honor the memory of Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom, Ed White, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown and Laurel Clark, let us be thankful that their are still men and women like them, heroes whose mettle is summed up so eloquently in the words of the English poet Sarah Williams:
“Take me out to the black. Tell ’em I ain’t comin’ back…” — The Ballad of Serenity
If you’re a space enthusiast like us, the days between January 27 and February 1 are a difficult stretch. That’s because each year we’re forced to observe a hat trick of anniversaries we wish we didn’t have to see on the calendar– a somber series of dates that remind us that it is indeed a rough road that leads to the stars.
This past Wednesday, January 27, was the anniversary of the flash fire on the launch pad during a test in 1967 that claimed the lives of Apollo 1 astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger Chaffee. And last Thursday, January 28, marked the 30th anniversary of the day on which Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, killing astronauts Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik, as well as Christa McAuliffe, a New England school teacher who was to have become the first educator in space as part of NASA’s Teacher in Space Project. This Monday, February 1, will be thirteen years since Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere and astronauts Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon perished.
Here at Take Back the Sky, we’ve written at length about these tragedies and the heroes we lost as a result of them. (If you’d like to read more, check out our archived blogposts from October 2012 and January 2015.) This year however, we’d like to honor the memory of all of these brave men and women by taking a look at the groundbreaking work that one of them was to have done out in the black.
Like a lot of people who enthusiastically support manned spaceflight, I was a bit dismayed by the results of a recent survey conducted by Monmouth University, in which 1,000 adults were asked at random in a telephone interview whether or not they’d take a free ride into space if it were offered to them. I was shocked to read that just 28% of Americans surveyed (roughly 1 in 4) said they’d want to take that free ride on a rocket ship.
As a high school teacher who teaches Advanced Placement German courses to juniors and seniors, I’m always looking for thought-provoking essay topics to assign for students’ journals, and this seemed to me like a good opportunity to assign an essay that would challenge my students to develop and express their own opinions (in German) about this very timely and interesting topic, while at the same time conducting my own little survey to gauge their interest in going into the black.
So, I asked my 20 Advanced Placement German students, 11 high school seniors and nine high school juniors, all ages 16-18, the following question (translated from German): “If someone gave you the chance to travel into space on a rocket free of charge, would you go? Why or why not?” Though it was not part of the prompt for the essay, I explained to the students that this would not be a one-way trip like Mars One, but rather an opportunity to visit space and return to tell the tale, provided that everything about the trip remained nominal from launch to recovery. Students were required to explain their position on the topic in an essay of two pages or more, which they wrote in their essay journals. Once again, I would be surprised by the results, though this time for a very different reason. Continue Reading
Over the next six days, there will be three very somber anniversaries in the space community. That six-day stretch began today, as on this date in 1967, three Apollo 1 astronauts died in a flash fire during a launch pad test. Tomorrow will mark the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger’s explosion during launch in 1986, a tragedy that claimed the lives of all seven astronauts on board. And then of course this Sunday, February 1, will be the twelfth anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia and the seven astronauts of her crew, all of whom perished when the vehicle disintegrated during reentry.
For more about these tragedies and the heroes we lost as a result of them, you can read our World Space Week blog post from October 8, 2012.
These tragic accidents, like the one that claimed the life of a Virgin Galactic test pilot last year, serve as a reminder that leaving this planet is never easy, and that traveling and working in space will never truly be “safe.” But each of these men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of space exploration believed that going out to the black was something worth risking their very lives for, and ultimately they did it for us, for our children and for those future generations for whom travel into Low Earth Orbit will be no more extraordinary than an airline flight from New York to Berlin is today.
And for those of us who will never know what it’s like to break atmo, the least we can do to show our gratitude is honor their memories. May they rest in peace.
Ad astra per aspera…
I let my wife Richelle choose the destination of our family vacation this year. I figured she’d more than earned that right. After all, she had been willing to let me go off to a major con in Philadelphia for four days in late spring, and had put up with my taking over the job of organizing Pittsburgh’s annual Can’t Stop the Serenity events. She also agreed with the idea of our traveling to Germany next summer with a group of my students and their parents instead of taking a family vacation.
When she said she’d like to go to Houston, Texas for a few days to visit her sister Laurie and her family, I was on board without hesitation. My previous experiences in Texas were overwhelmingly positive, and I enjoy spending time with Laurie, her husband Steve and their two kids, who are both about the same age as my son. Since this would be the first time we visited them since they moved to Houston from Austin, I was also looking forward to seeing what the city of Houston had to offer, and I was especially enthusiastic about the prospect of visiting the Johnson Space Center. Continue Reading