Since the earliest days of this site, I have written annually about a very somber week in the space community. That week begins today, with the anniversary of the flash fire that occurred on the launch pad during an Apollo 1 test 51 years ago, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Tomorrow will mark the 32nd anniversary of the mid-launch explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger, which claimed the lives of astronauts Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Francis (Dick) Scobee, Ronald McNair, Mike Smith and Ellison Onizuka. Just four days later, on February 1, we will see the 25th anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated during re-entry with the loss of astronauts David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool, and Ilan Ramon.
Over the years I have written so much about these men and women, their bravery, their sacrifice and their willingness to give their lives if it meant that humanity would come one step closer to a future in which living and working out in the black was a regular part of our daily existence. (If you’d like to read any of it, simply search this site’s archives for any given year in the months of January and February.) As this week of remembrance approached again this year, I realized that I really didn’t have anything new to say that hadn’t already been said about them. I felt that at this point, if there is any one thing that bears repeating, it is that they should be remembered as heroes. Big. Damn. Heroes. Every one of them.
So this year, I would simply like to call your attention to how NASA has decided to honor these astronauts, the crew of Challenger in particular.
“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.
If someone offered you a free ride into space, would you go?
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
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