Friday, January 27, 2012

This day - and tomorrow - in history ...

Everyone has their routine stops - both actual and virtual - that they make in the course of the day. For me, the latter include a "This Day in History" feature prepared by the New York Times.

During TODAY's stop I learned of a number of significant events, including one that had a special added note, due to an event that will appear on the feature TOMORROW.

On January 27, 1967, Astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire that swept through their capsule during a test aboard their Apollo I spacecraft, at Cape Kennedy, Florida. HERE is the NYT's coverage of that story. Almost 45 years ago, but I still remember the news reports, and the heartbreak felt by those of us who were growing-up with America's space program, and who had idolized our astronauts from the first days of the Mercury mission. Apollo 1 was the launch of a new mission in that program, and the first step on that final leg of the journey that began with President Kennedy's call for "a great new American enterprise ... of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth."

Eventually, our astronauts would reach the moon (and would leave an Apollo 1 patch at one of the landing sites), but the space program would continue, with new triumphs, and new tragedies ... one of which we'll mark tomorrow. On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just after liftoff from Cape Kennedy, Florida, killing all seven of its crew members. HERE is the NYT's coverage of THAT story. I remember that day, too. I was substitute teaching in a Dallas high school, when news of the explosion began circulating. Some of my students wondered what the fuss was about. Remember, teacher Christa McAuliffe was a member of that crew, and classrooms of students across the country following the launch. The teacher who was going door-to-door with the news told me that students at McAuliffe's own school had been sent home following the accident. "Oh, man," said one of my students. "I wish it'd been one of our teachers. Then WE could be going home" ... and some of you wonder why people with such an 'easy' job as teaching, burn-out.

Anyway, that's an interesting coincidence I noticed during one of my regular, virtual stops today. It reminded me that the 'space race' brought with it all the elements that people look for in a race, the challenge and the excitement, the triumph and the tragedy. I still like to follow developments in space programs - ours, and those of other nations ... though I do wonder how much will be left of our own program in the near future. And that's a shame, considering the sacrifices some have made as part of that program. My thoughts? ... seventy years ago, someone expressed them far better than I ever could.

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds - and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,

I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long delirious, burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod

The high untresspassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God."

- John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

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