We Mourn, Then
We Must Go On
The phone call came just before midnight and the voice on the other end said something like, "get on a plane and head for the Cape. We need someone to meet a camera crew for the liftoff."
It was the’60s and the voice from the network newsdesk was telling me to meet a crew so we could record on film the liftoff of one of the Apollo flights (please don’t think I’m pretentious if I say I don’t remember which one — there were a few, to be sure). Talk about exciting! I had already "been around" to a bunch of news stories and had been inured to travel and such, but I had also been a buff of flying and space and all those wonderful fantasies that science fiction books and movies had brought me as a child. This was it!
I became privileged, at that time, to have been among a relative few covering those episodes of discovery; standing miles away as the ground shook like an earthquake, bursting the ears and the senses as the Saturn rocket boosted our astronauts into orbit, but also being cowed by the honor to have been there at all.
Those were the early days and they were awesome; not part of everyday, complacent life as the space program has become — until last week when the crew of the Columbia space shuttle, the 113th forage into space — perished as the shuttle entered Earth’s atmosphere.
We have all watched the space adventure. Thanks to the advances in communications, even during those early ’60s, we were all privileged to have seen the program blossom from the glint in the eyes of President John F. Kennedy to a step on the dusty surface of the ultimate symbol of mystery and romance to a platform-satellite in the sky. The ultimate for me was, of course, the first Apollo shot, to be coupled with Apollo 11 and coverage of Neil Armstrong’s subsequent short visit to New York afterwards.
The space program at that time was young and exciting and full of danger, like one of those fantasies come true.
Unfortunately, until last Saturday, those adventures became relatively routine. There were no midnight calls sending journalists to special sites; no one in particular, except family, waiting expectantly at Cape Canaveral to greet the adventuring heroes when they arrived. The journey to other worlds had become an everyday thing; no longer the culmination of a dream.
We will go to that fantasy-like world again. After investigations and probes and questions are properly answered and solutions are arrived upon, another cadre of brave astronauts will climb aboard a spacecraft and be hurtled into space in a quest for knowledge. We will notice them at first. Then, as with all things, their journey too will become taken for granted. Those who have gone before, however — like the seven astronauts who heroically died in the Columbia shuttle disaster — will not be forgotten. They will instead become symbols of the courage it took to search for farther horizons.