Seven heros died in Columbia explosion

Curt Harris and Curt Harris

I started February first like I would any other Saturday. When I finally got around to turning on the television, I saw some of the first reports on the Columbia disaster and continued to watch for hours. My brain finally decided it couldn’t handle anymore around one o’clock, so I wandered to the living room and logged-on my computer.

One of the email discussion groups already had three separate threads going on the Columbia disaster. The first was naturally what, how and why did this happen? The second was expressing shock and outrage at the people who had less than 2 hours after the disaster began selling pieces of the shuttle on eBay. The final thread is the one that caught my attention the most. The debate was “Why should we care?”

People die every day; we don’t take time out every day to mourn them. People die in service to our country everyday, solders die daily overseas in preparation for war. None of this gets the press coverage that this event did. There are people out across the country that save peoples lives every day and we don’t pull Saturday morning cartoons when they die tragically.

I was surprised that I was actually buying into the argument that there wasn’t really anything special about the people who died in Columbia, except they happened to work for NASA. President Bush called them heroes and I scoffed. I thought to myself that they weren’t heroes and that, since September 11th, everyone who dies in a nationally covered event is a hero. It didn’t take me long to realize that that notion could be a bit jaded. I mean compared to September 11th, the Columbia was hardly a disaster. Just because it doesn’t compare, that doesn’t mean though that the Columbia isn’t important.

So do we mourn the astronauts because they were heroes, or because the shuttle made for good television? So what is a hero and do these seven people who died in the course of simply doing their job deserve the title of hero?

These seven astronauts, payload commander Michael P. Anderson, mission specialist Dr. David M. Brown; mission specialist Kalpana Chawla; mission specialist Dr. Laurel Blair Salton Clark; shuttle commander Rick D. Husband; pilot William C. McCool; and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, like the Challenger astronauts before them, and the Crew of the Apollo 1 before them, died in a quest for knowledge, a quest for knowledge that brought them to the cutting edge of human technology, a quest that brought them to NASA.

Since its inception, NASA has been pushing forward our exploration of space. NASA has given us everything from technologically simple Velcro to technologically complex MRI technology. NASA and the space program have always been pushing technologically forward.

NASA experts estimate that one out of every 75 shuttle launches will end in disaster. We were well over due for a disaster when these seven astronauts took off. They knew the risks of their job and yet they did it anyway, not just for the paycheck and not just for their country either, but for all of humanity. They conducted more than 80 experiments and the astronauts were divided into 12-hour shifts so that experiments could be done around the clock.

Webster’s dictionary defines a hero as, “a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities.” The seven astronauts died on February first in an ongoing quest for knowledge, boldly going where few men have gone and in my book, that makes them heroes.