Pioneers and Heroes – and the Final Frontier

“I watched other men walk on the Moon, and return safely, all from the confines of Mission Control and our house in Houston. I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?”
– Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks) narrating at the end of the movie, Apollo 13

This is a sad time of year for those connected with the American Space Program. It should be a time of remembrance for all Americans.

January 27th is the anniversary of America’s first great loss of human life related to space exploration. On that day, 48 years ago in 1967, the Apollo Space Program’s first planned manned flight, the Apollo 1 command module caught fire during a pre-launch test.

On January 28th, 29 years ago in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff.

And then on February 1st, 12 years ago in 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while reentering earth’s atmosphere.

Here is a list of those command module and shuttle crew members, those heroes who lost their lives in pursuit of that grand challenge of space exploration.

Apollo 1 Astronauts:
Gus Grissom
Ed White
Roger Chaffee
Apollo 1 Crew 01

Space Shuttle Challenger crew members:
Michael J. Smith
Dick Scobee
Ronald McNair
Ellison Onizuka
Judith Resnik
Christa McAuliffe
Gregory Jarvis
Challenger Crew 01

Space Shuttle Columbia Astronauts:
David Brown
Rick Husband
Laurel Clark
Kalpana Chawla
Michael Anderson
William McCool
Ilan Ramon
Columbia Crew 01

What started as just wanting to check up on the test flight accident of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo from a few months ago (October 31, 2014), I got to thinking, and remembered that the anniversary of the Shuttle Challenger tragedy was in January. It wasn’t until I pursued further, that I realized the anniversaries of the Apollo 1 disaster and the Columbia shuttle tragedy were also within a few days of the Challenger anniversary.

Last October two civilian test pilots, Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold were flying SpaceShipTwo, evaluating a new and more powerful Hybrid rocket engine. Early in the flight, SpaceShipTwo broke apart, killing Michael Alsbury. Miraculously, Peter Siebold survived.

After the Apollo 1 accident, it was a hugely courageous act to fly on the next Apollo mission, and the next, and the one after that. Again it took an act of immense daring for each of those who chose to fly shuttle missions after the Challenger blew up and again after Columbia. It’s always been a courageous act, an act of bravery for these men and women who stepped up to the challenge.

Astronauts have been to the moon and back. An International space station has been continuously occupied for almost 15 years. What’s next?

As Astronaut John Glenn said at the beginning of the Mercury program, predecessor to America’s Apollo program, “This whole project with regard to space is like the Wright Brothers standing at Kitty Hawk about fifty years ago, with Orville and Wilbur pitching a coin to see who was going to shove the other one off the hill, I think we stand on the verge of something as big and as expansive as that.”

Now the future lies further out there, in the great beyond of outer space, where mankind has yet attempted to go. Again remembering Captain Kirk’s narration at the beginning of each Star Trek episode, “Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

NASA, Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and others continue to expand their reach into space in an effort to take us further from this little blue and green ball we call home. As we acknowledge the anniversaries this week of the loss of these space explorers, let’s cheer on those who come after – Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold and others whose names are yet to written down in the chronicles of history. The explorers of that final frontier – the daring heroes pushing and probing further into space.

“We stand on the verge of something big.” – We must remember and should be grateful that heroes still exist, and they are reaching for the stars – inspiring us to do the same.

“Perhaps we’ve just forgotten that we are still pioneers. And we’ve barely begun. And that our greatest accomplishments cannot be behind us, because our destiny lies above us.”
– Cooper, Interstellar


About VocareMentor

Walk with the wise and become wise - Prov. 13:20 A lot of my blog comes out of the way I grew up. My parents divorced when I was 6 years old and I didn’t see much of my father. I had no understanding of how the lack of his presence in my life affected every choice I made as I grew up. Much of my adult life has been attempting to sort things out and catch up. Thus, what you’ll find on my blog are musings, thoughts, wisdom and ideas from history and pop culture. Themes: mentors, father/son, male/female, self-discovery, courage, stepping up, friendship and more.
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3 Responses to Pioneers and Heroes – and the Final Frontier

  1. Well written and interesting reflection on the disasters of the NASA program. In an age of Disney-movie happy endings, we forget that adventures are not always fortuitous. Venturing into the unknown, whether it is a journey into space as an explorer or to a west African country as a medical worker, involves risk and can end badly, and we admire those who have the fortitude to face up to known dangers. Some people have this penchant for risk-taking as an integral part of their character. Others have to “screw their courage to the sticking point” to step forward in risky situations.
    “Pioneers and Heroes” — I don’t know if the adventurers who set out on these NASA flights are heroes, “hero” defined as a person who sacrifices something of him/herself for the greater good of family, community, country. Bravery aside, a Marine wading ashore at Guadalcanal was a hero; an astronaut climbing into a space capsule was a celebrity. If we believe that the manifest destiny of homo sapiens is conquest of the Universe, then perhaps these celebrities in the cult of science and technology and consumerism are heroes. Several of them sacrificed their lives on missions that are purported to move us along the path to that destiny. Their fate was certainly glamorous. And glamour was their goal. Personally, I think the people who operate the local food bank are more heroic. Just not as celebrated.

    • VocareMentor says:

      You make a number of excellent points.
      I couldn’t agree more that heroes come in many forms – medical workers in West Africa or those dedicated to helping those less fortunate at a local food bank – they truthfully are worthy of our praise and respect.
      Nevertheless, speaking of astronauts, most are one or a combination of the following: military veteran, medical doctor, combat aviator, fighter pilot, and test pilot – just some of the career’s prior to becoming astronauts. They are men and women, facing many dangers, the first and most obvious one being riding rockets into space. They’re contributing daily to all kinds of technological, scientific and medical advances and laying the groundwork for future exploration (nearby space travel and perhaps someday, who knows!?!) with contributions to mankind not even dreamed of. – Heroes in my eyes.
      Thanks for your input.

  2. movierob says:

    great piece! Really enjoyed reading it!

    i’m a big fan of the history of the space program and knew that both shuttle disasters were this week. i actually forgot that Apollo 1 was also.

    have u ever seen the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon? It’s long, but an amazing portrayal of those heroic (and daring) test pilots who would eventually make the voyage to the moon.

    people forget that when we all studied history in school, we learned about the early explorers of the New World. Not all of them made it home, but their attempts during their journey’s is what’s important. If memory serves, Magellan is credited with circumnavigating the globe, but he died along the way, but is still remembered for his heroic and historic feat!

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