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Space Shuttle Challenger
The Space Shuttle Challenger shortly before the explosion of one of the solid rocket boosters that would destroy the spacecraft.

Start: As my Facebook friend Sam Hobbs reminded me, 27 years ago today the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51L) was destroyed in flight due to a catastrophic failure of one of their massive solid rocket boosters. And, sadly, 46 years ago yesterday, the crew of Apollo 1 died in a fire in their spacecraft during a pre-flight simulation run.

(Update, Jan. 29: And, on top of this, 10 years ago as of Friday, February 1, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry. A tough week in space flight history, this one.)

These are moments that make grown men shed tears, and I confess I am one of those men.

Let me dedicate these few lines to the memories of the crews of the Challenger, and Apollo 1, and the crews of Space Shuttle Columbia, Soyuz 1, and Soyuz 11, brave, brave individuals who have given their lives in our tentative first steps into the final frontier. And, as well, let me dedicate these to all space travelers that have gone before, and will venture forth in the years, decades, and centuries to come.

And lastly — to astronaut Rusty Schweigert, who helped me understand that space flight can change the traveller into something more — and maybe even greater — than he or she was before.

“Ascension”

The world stood in astonishment

in those early years

And marveled

and wondered at this thing they did not understand

Voyagers to the very stars

What skill did you invest

What ingenuity did you employ

to reach the other side

of God’s own sky

Where did you find the anchorage for your pitons

What footholds did you reach within the clouds

Yet the astonishment of the Earthbound

was nothing

compared to the gift that you received

compared

to the gift of your ascension
 

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