Has it really been ten years? I can remember that February morning in 2003 so vividly. I was 17, a Junior in high school in Miami, and for whatever reason, I was home that morning. TV news was always on in our house. At any given time in the day, one of us was watching cable news. I remember being in my bedroom and hearing the sound from the other room. I have always been fascinated by flight; both in this world and out of this world. I loved to watch shuttle take-offs and landings. Maybe that was why I had opted to go into school late that day. I was listening to the reporter, waiting to hear that the shuttle had re-entered and would be landing soon… safely.
After a few moments of silence, I ran into the other room, wondering why I had not heard that the shuttle was spotted over Texas. What I saw on the television screen shocked and saddened me. I watched seven people burn to death in the highest reaches of our atmosphere. Helplessly, we all watched seven intelligent, accomplished mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands and wives…burn in real time. That moment etched itself into my brain, forever leaving a stain on the memories of all the shuttle success that I had witnessed throughout my life.
What an incredible legacy to leave with your family and country. The life of an astronaut cannot be easy. Every mission that you embark on may be the most important and progressive mission in the history of space travel, or it may be your last. What do you say to your family and friends before you go? What do you say when you return? It must be difficult to explain the pride of being a part of something as foreign and incredibly unique as traveling beyond our world. And it must be equally as hard to describe the devastation of losing colleagues and friends to that same mission of exploration, discovery, and scientific education that has been so important to us as Americans. To be a man or woman of space travel is to live with those extreme emotions everyday of your working career. The world is watching, waiting to hear of your success or demise.
May those who lost their lives on Columbia, and Challenger for that matter, be forever remembered as heroes and champions of scientific discovery and bravery beyond our earth.