FIRST PERSON | Feb. 1 marks the 10th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy. In 2003, while the nation was still raw from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Russia and the United States were working together at the International Space Station. Americans looked toward space as a new frontier of peace.
Life changed once again with Columbia's destruction as it reentered Earth's atmosphere. I was busy starting a new life as a single mother struggling and working to pay my mortgage on our Long Island house. After divorce and 9/11, I was embarking on a brighter future. Special news reports regarding Columbia's tragedy seemed surreal. How could NASA allow another tragedy to happen after the Challenger explosion?
The space program was magic for me. As a 9-year-old, I watched in awe a live broadcast on TV of Neil Armstrong as he took the first steps on the moon. The space program gave the country hope for a future filled with new possibilities. During many visits in Orlando, I watched the skies during shuttle take-offs. Whenever a shuttle appeared, everyone would stop in their tracks and look up to take in the magic of watching a craft head into outer space.
But the Columbia tragedy caused me to question why we were spending time and money racing to explore space when our home planet was at war. Hopes of landing on the moon and space travel were placed on hold. Officials spent days and months combing the land for remnants of the craft and its crew to piece together answers. The tragedy led to updated safety measures and a definite date for the shuttle program to retire.
It's now 10 years later, and I have just sold my house as my daughter is about to head off to college. As a woman of a certain age, I am looking toward a warmer future filled with palm trees.
NASA, meanwhile, is working on Orion to begin a new space exploration mission in 2017. Private companies have now stepped in to develop possibilities for the opportunity of commercial air travel beyond the Earth's atmosphere.
Looking into the future, there's still magic left.
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