It is never easy writing about the loss of human life. It is even harder finding out and accepting the news as an unsuspecting individual. Such was the case Saturday morning during breakfast as a friend of mine broke the news to me about the space shuttle Columbia’s fate during re-entry.
Death permeates our world on a daily basis in such a way that we take it for granted. Millions of people die every day, but life goes on without as much as a flinch.
What makes the Columbia disaster significantly noticeable is that these systems are supposed to be foolproof. In fact, our space program has a higher safety record than the simple act of driving a car. Thousands are injured or die every day from automotive accidents as opposed to the losses of life within the space program’s history. Still, many things can go wrong at any given time of a space mission. From fueling and pre-flight procedures to takeoff to landing, the alert status is always high and it doesn’t change until the vehicle is safely on the ground.
We’ve become so accustomed to seeing the space shuttle take off and land on a regular basis that it has become a routine practice. This tragedy proves again that space travel is far from routine.
Going back to the Apollo 1 tragedy in 1967 then forward to the Challenger disaster in 1986, the loss of life has been kept to a minimum. But there always remains a huge risk when humans strap themselves on the tip of a highly explosive, ballistic device that re-enters the earth’s atmosphere at Mach 18 enduring thousands of degrees Celsius.
Such are the dangers of space travel.
But knowledge of the safety aspects never eliminates the shock that affects all aspects of our society and the rest of the international community when such a disaster occurs. It touches many lives in many places and to say differently is to deny humanity.
As a little kid growing up in Florida I always wanted to be an astronaut. At age 4 I can remember my family and me glued to the television set on that July in 1969 as Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong said “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” while making the first ever human footprints on lunar soil.
We witnessed the near disaster during the Apollo 13 mission as our thoughts and prayers were with the families of the astronauts on that mission. They made it back safely.
We watched every single launch and landing of the Apollo program and it was in sheer awe that I stood at the base of a Saturn V booster on a pilgrimage to Cape Canaveral at age 11.
I was lucky to watch the first-ever space shuttle mission as it blasted off into history and reshaped the space program as we knew it then.
The space program inspired me in many ways, as it did those aboard the Columbia. They achieved what still only remains a dream for myself and many others like me.
On Saturday, Feb. 1, 2003 at approximately 9:00 a.m. Mission Control time, we lost seven international-caliber heroes on a mission of knowledge into the vast frontiers of outer space. They perished doing something that many of us will never get to do in our lifetimes, but, most importantly, doing something they cherished and enjoyed. They fulfilled their dream of space travel.
It has never been easy to write something such as this because it is never easy to accept the loss at hand. They were astronauts by occupation, but human souls in the end and it is with this that we extend our condolences to their loved ones on their significant loss.
A fond and sad farewell to the space shuttle Columbia crew of Mission STS-107: Rick Husband, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, David Brown, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon.
Godspeed to the seven of you as you enter the journey to the true final frontier that inevitably awaits all of us. You will be sadly missed by many.
You are finally home.
Henry Sarria is a longtime Isla Vista resident.