Sunday, January 29, 2006


Watching the news on TV about the anniversary of the Challenger disaster, I remembered that I was in 5th grade when it happened, which made me feel really, really old. But, I'm 30. It's been 20 years.

I remember sitting in my classroom and my teacher, who had wanted to step out of the room to watch the liftoff, had us all raise our hands over our heads and hold them there. "Don't move a muscle-- I'll be right back," she said, and then she darted out of the room. When she returned a few minutes later, she was crying.

Sixteen years later, the Challenger incident would take on a new and more personal meaning in my life. At church, I befriended a new family who had just moved to town from Houston. The wife became a good pal of mine, their youngest child was the same age as my son, and their older daughters were great babysitters. When I first met them, I was chatting with the husband.

"So, you just moved here from Houston?"

"Yeah. I worked for NASA."

"Oh. What did you do for NASA?" (Expecting some sort of engineer or management kind of response.)

"Well... I was an astronaut."

By this time, I was about to fall over. Somehow, I sucked it up and tried to act cool-- "Oh, well I guess that's pretty cool."

"Yeah, I guess," he said.

So much for cool, I decided, and asked the typical stupid non-astronaut question. "So, what's it like being in space?" DOH!

"Do you mean before or after you quit throwing up?" he asked.

"Haha... heh... Uh, so, where'd your wife go?" That was it for that conversation.

Over the next year or so that I lived in their town, we got to know their family much better, and actually had many more (far less dorky) conversations about the space program, being an astronaut, and aviation (his real passion). I learned (through my own snooping at the NASA web site-- not through his bragging) that he had done over 800 hours in space, including over 18 hours of extra-vehicular activity (space walks to repair the hubble, I think). Way cool.

But his wife was my real best buddy, and my partner in crime. She didn't have to work, as she had saved wisely from her many years as an executive for one of the major oil companies. Like me, however, she was an armchair psychologist who loved people too much to just stay home. So she took a job pouring coffee at a local coffee shop, and I would go by three days a week to study and chat the morning away. We talked about life, about God, about human nature, and about family.

And then Columbia fell apart, and our discussions shifted focus. She had never been scared before, she said, when her husband would go on his space missions. She'd keep her mind occupied, stay busy, and have fun with their girls. It wasn't until the Columbia disaster happened that she felt the reality of the risks he had taken full force, and was terrified of what her life would have been like without him. Each night since the disaster, she said, she had held him, often crying, as she fell asleep, not wanting to let go.

Hearing one of my closest friends at the time say this, it was very easy for my heart to just ache for what the other people had lost. No, it wasn't my friend or husband lost in the Columbia disaster, or the Challenger disaster for that matter, but it was someone's spouse, parent, child, sibling, or loved one. And having that understanding made even more real in my life, my heart broke even more for the loss of precious lives, big dreams, and determination to do more.

My former astronaut pal and I would sometimes be in the coffee shop together, visiting with his wife on the same days. When she would get busy and have to leave us for a while, we'd sit and read the paper together, and talk about the news. Reading all the reports post-Columbia that questioned the importance of continuing space travel and implied that sending people into space isn't worth the risk we are taking, my friend was not happy. Everyone who enters the space program understands the kinds of risks they are facing, and knows that death is an unlikely, but possible, fact of the job. And yet still, many continue on, pursue careers as astronauts, and take the risks that come with it. NASA is obligated to do everything in its' power to make it as safe as possible, but there will always be a risk, just as there will always be people willing to take on that risk.

I guess my point is this: Every person on those shuttles knew what kinds of things they were facing, and still moved forward with courage and determination to discover new things that could, in the end, help those of us who are not willing or able to take those risks ourselves. Honor their memory, but also their courage. They were, and continue in our memory to be, awesome examples of bravery and dedication.

In other news, I'm in a foul mood today and almost didn't even write this post. (Deleted because problem has been resolved.)

And whoever it is that found this site by searching for "strippers in san diego"-- get a life. I'm glad you didn't find what you came here looking for.

Grrrrrrr.... I'm a grouch today.

No comments: