January 28, 2006


I remember that day all too well. I had spent the morning at Illinois State University' Bone Student Center, in a giant room filled with teacher recruiters as I desperately sought employment.

I wanted to get rid of my resumes and other stuff before heading to the cafeteria, so my girlfriend and I went up to my dorm room in Watterson Towers to drop stuff off. She turned the television on to catch the news. After all, this was the "Teacher In Space" flight, and there had been much buzz about the impending launch at the teacher job fair.

That's when we saw the coverage.

They were looking for the shuttle.

And then they showed the replay as we watched -- horrified.


I remember shouting at the screen. I was later told that my words were "Where's the f#^%ing shuttle?" I was literally knocked to my knees by the force of what I was seeing as the tears began to roll down my face, brought on by a visceral understanding of images that my brain could not comprehend.

I knelt there and watched. And wept. We never did make it down to lunch, nor did I return to the job fair.

It must have been an hour or two later that the phone rang. It was Tony Zagotta, president of the ISU College Republicans (later the National Chairman) and one of my closest friends on campus. Could I meet him, Eric Nicoll, and the rest of the CR inner circle at the office to help organize a candlelight vigil in the quad.

Before I went to that meeting, I watched what is my favorite Reagan speech.


"Ladies and Gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

"Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But, we've never lost an astronaut in flight; we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

"For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, 'Give me a challenge and I'll meet it with joy.' They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

"We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

"And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them.

"I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: 'Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.'

"There's a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, 'He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.' Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake's, complete.

"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'

"Thank you."

Apprpriately enough, it was those closing words that floatd into my mind nearly two decades later when Ronald Reagan died.

Today I can drive to Johnson Space Center in 10 minutes, including the time it takes to back out of the garage. A local school and the town youth center are named for astronaut Ed White, killed on the launchpad with Grissom and Chaffee in that flash of fire in the first Apollo capsule. I shared a zip code with one of the Columbia astronauts, and remember seeing the others in local stores. All of those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration have a special place in the heart of this community.

I claim a number of honest-to-God rocket scientists among my friends and acquaintances. Several of them were intimately involved with Challenger, and more were a part of the Columbia team. A few, the old-timers, knew and worked with the Apollo 1 crew. Each of them tells me that they are dedicated to the continuation of manned spaceflight. Why? Because those who have given their lives to push back that frontier would want it to continue.

And so, today, we honor and remember those who died in spaceflight.

X-15 Flight 191
Michael J. Adams

Apollo 1
Gus Grissom
Ed White
Roget Chaffee

Challenger -- 51-L
Dick Scobee
Michael Smith
Judith Resnik
Ellison Onizuka
Ronald McNair
Greg Jarvis
Christa McAuliffe

Columbia -- STS-107
Rick Husband
William McCool
Michael Anderson
David Brown
Kalpana Chawla
Laurel Clark
Ilan Ramon


Soyuz 1

Soyuz 11
Georgi Dobrovolski
Viktor Patsayev
Vladislav Volkov

OTHERS REMEMBER: Michelle Malkin, Below the Beltway, Sun Comprehending Glass, Lincoln Logs, Scared Monkeys, Small Town Veteran, MacsMind, Dr. Sanity, Mike's Noise, Oh How I Love Jesus, Right Wing Nut House, Dean's World
, Unpartisan, Sister Toldjah, bRight and Early, Right on the Left Coast, Magnum's Conservative Voice, Right Side Of The Road, SoCalPundit

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Comments on Challenger+20

You showed great class including the Soviet cosmonauts. Well done. Space challenges and inspires all of us ...

|| Posted by Well Seasoned, January 29, 2006 09:16 AM ||

How could i not include them?

|| Posted by Rhymes With Right, January 29, 2006 11:08 AM ||

This was a tragic day, but let us also remember all those who lost their lives over the years in our space program. I grew up watching Apollo launches, and failures. It was an exciting magical time, and with excitement always comes danger. We owe them all a great debt of gratitude.

|| Posted by Brian Bonner, January 29, 2006 04:12 PM ||

The Challenger was so tragic and it was so great that Reagan delivered his words the way he did. I just wish that the State of the Union had been scheduled a week later so that the pressure of the STU couldn't be factored in even as a hint of influence on that extraordinarily cold Florida day when so many key engineers suggested a third delay in her liftoff. We will never know if the Challenger would have been successful without the ice, cold and wind sheer present on that fateful day. And definitely, let's remember all of those who have given their lives to help us explore space. Twenty years later and it still is so shocking in so many ways.

|| Posted by Randy McMillan, February 5, 2006 09:14 AM ||
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