Twenty-five years ago. Jesus.
I remember 1969, watching as the Eagle landed, my nose pressed to the black and white TV in that long ago summer. It was everything I'd hoped for, everything I'd read about in the stories I treasured. We had reached the moon, and could the stars be far beyond?
I was too excited, then, to think of Grissom, White and Chaffee; too uninformed to know about the X-15 deaths or the Nedelin catastrophe at Baikonur. In the years to come, I managed to avoid hearing of the Soyuz 11 crew, or even consider the dozens of non-flight-crew related deaths that were still connected with humanity's efforts to leave Earth.
Time passed. Missions to the moon stopped, but we still pitched and lurched and yawed in near space, living and hoping with visions of space stations.
And we had the machines that got us there, great lumbering things - almost as unnavigable as the rockets that boosted our first hostage capsules into the black. But not quite; they were better than that, they were the next step into the future, I was sure. I watched the first one go up shortly after I came to Chicago, and for a moment it felt like the summer of 1969.
Then came Jan. 28, 1986 and those horned contrails, and Christa McAuliffe's parents clutching each other, gazing up at where Challenger wasn't.
Everything stopped. The stars dimmed a little more, obscured first by death, then by everything from incompetence to lack of money, to lack of interest. There were good things, of course, things like advances in unmanned exploration, but the human heart needs more. It needs to be there. I don't know why, but I know it's true.
Things got better again, for a while; they were safer, too, but nothing's ever truly safe, is it?
And then February of 2003, and the string of diamonds - streaking across the Texas sky, falling from it - that should have been Columbia.
And now here we are. And I still watch those 73 seconds or so with some stupid, irrational part of my mind hoping that this time, it won't happen. And I still shiver every time I hear "go to throttle up."
As supergee says, "25 years ago, they died trying to lead us in a jailbreak. I hope it wasn't in vain."
So do I.
I haven't linked to the film clips of that day; I can't even watch them. I will link to this page, just to remind people how many of us have died to slip the bonds of earth. ETA: Be aware that the last minute of the video below contains footage of the explosion, so if that's triggery for you, you might want to listen, but not look. I'm an idiot.
But I'll also offer up this, because I think it's an excellent acknowledgment of our yearning for space, despite everything. Jordin Kare wrote a keeper, and the bridge written by Kristoph Klover (who sings this version) is a fitting addition.