FIRST PERSON | I've witnessed three major spacecraft disasters in my life. Each tragedy taught us that we must learn from our mistakes and keep moving out to the stars.
As a child in 1967, I recall with perfect clarity the day that Apollo 1 caught fire and burned, killing three astronauts, including Gus Grissom.
In 1986, after space shuttle Challenger broke up and we lost seven more astronauts, I remember hearing his terribly prescient words from an interview archived at the Smithsonian Institution. He expressed the astronaut code perfectly: "If we die, we want people to accept it. We are in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."
On Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up during re-entry. I lived in Massachusetts at the time, a state still scarred by the losses of 9/11 two short years earlier. It seemed almost unreal that another space flight tragedy was upon us with its attendant loss of life.
But, as I sat on the sofa watching the coverage of the Columbia tragedy, I thought once again of Grissom's words. They reminded me that risk is part of life. The 17 astronauts who have died to bring space exploration alive for the rest of us knew that it is only through risk that we make progress.
The memory of those astronauts lives on in my heart.
At the age of 59, I have spent most of my life also reaching for the stars. Each night I step outside and look up at the sky from my home in Colorado, and I feel proud that NASA has not let these losses limit its vision.
NASA supported me through graduate school, and I pay that generosity and imaginative vision forward by sharing the cosmos with everyone through my writing, my space and astronomy video productions, and in my daily blog.
In memory of the Apollo 3, the Challenger 7, and especially the Columbia 7, I must not do less.
- Science, Social Science, & Humanities
- space shuttle Challenger
- Gus Grissom