New generation can find inspiration from sactifices of the last

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Somewhere in a filing cabinet we've got a blank application packet for NASA's "Journalist in Space" program.

If you haven't heard of that, it's because there never was a "Journalist in Space," because the project was shelved after an event 30 years ago this morning.

We remember hearing a live account of the Challenger launch over a radio in the old-fashioned chemical dark room, then hearing the shocking news that the craft had exploded by the time we reached the computer terminal in the newsroom.

"Was that the one with the teacher aboard?" President Reagan asked when hearing the news?

He went on to address the nation with a speech that was a perfect balance of grief, respect and determination that America's spirit of adventure and discovery would not be squelched.

American astronauts were a long time returning to space, with much self-examination and second-guessing along the way.

Those who knew the decision to launch that day was a mistake serve as an example to all of us: when you see something, say something. Speak up when you know something is wrong.

We don't remember exactly how we heard about another January tragedy for NASA, the launch pad fire a day and 19 years earlier that killed three astronauts trying out a faulty Apollo capsule inflated with pure oxygen.

We do remember stepping into the shower after hearing Columbia was beginning re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, only to hear that contact had been lost by the time we were drying off.

We're looking forward to seeing the McCook Community College production of "Defying Gravity," 7 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday, plus 2 p.m. Sunday in the Weeth Theater.

The actors are too young to remember the Challenger disaster the play explores, and the Columbia is a distant memory, if that.

But it will be their generation that has to carry the torch of discovery forward, whether to Mars, the depths of the oceans or the arcane details of quantum theory, astrophysics or biology.

Let's hope they continue to find inspiration in the stories of those who sacrificed everything in the pursuit of knowledge to benefit all mankind.

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