Friday, June 22, 2007

Touchdown

When the Space Shuttle Challenger stained the skies of Florida, I was in ninth grade, eating lunch. A peperoni pizza from Domino's. The shuttle had only been in the air for 73 seconds (a prime number) and we were so acustomed to NASA's flawless launches that we weren't even watching the initial launch. But we watched the reply. Over. And over. Dozens of us huddled in the hallway, wide-eyed. Numbly trying to grasp the magnitude of the disaster. The weight of those astronaut's deaths lowing onto our shoulders like a slow, grim cloud. For my generation, it was JFK's brains strewn across the horizon. A crisp, lucid momen. Forever lodged in my mental craw.

When the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over the long fields of Texas, Cindy was getting Meg up from a nap. Our daughter wasn't even a year old. Liam wasn't even three. But when the smouldering debris started to rain down through the mid-day clouds, I called him to see the report. And we all watched the events unfold. Watched in silence as the NASA and the American people and the world again came to grips with another tragedy. Witnessed more of our best and brightest being erased from the face of the earth.

When the Space Shuttle Discovery landed today, Keith and I breathed a sigh of relief. We were watching it in his office, on the big screen. And when its wheels kissed the tarmac and that great white brick slowed to a stop, we quietly cheered.

It doesn't matter what I think about NASA's misplaced budget. Or how it pains me to see children who no longer want to grow up to be an astronaut. What matters is that they came home. They were safe. Their families could breathe a little easier. And the nation could go to sleep knowing they had lived to see another day. Touchdown.
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