Remembering the Space Shuttle Columbia

In this corner we have the double over time loss of the Georgetown men’s basketball team to hated rival Notre Dame. In the other corner we have the biggest tragedy in NASA’s manned shuttle program since the Challenger explosion of 1986. Which of these life-shattering events would garner the fragmented attention of the campus? From what I saw, it was no contest. Of course, in a fashion that is symptomatic of the generation we are a part of, it seems that the basketball game won out handily.

I don’t want to sit here and belittle the significance of losing in double overtime to one of our most hated rivals. We’re all Hoyas, so bragging rights and pride were intertwined tightly into that game. But for one minute, can we all be a little realistic here? Just for this minute, and when we’re done, by all means go back to whatever 21st century obsession you currently possess. This past Saturday, within three days of the 17th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy, a U.S. space shuttle blew apart mere minutes before it was supposed to land! Even worse, it seems that absolutely no one within the Healy Gates cared.

This is the perfect crystallization of the difference a couple of decades can make. In the ’60s and even into the ’80s, the greatest of our heroes were the astronauts. We all remember the scene in Armageddon where Ben Affleck and his crew walk toward the spacecraft in hazy, slow-mo action, toting along all the grandeur, history and mystique of the space program. This was a grandeur that was built and solidified in America during the Cold War, in which it was integral to our national spirit that we beat the Soviets in the “Space Race.” We did, and we were proud to beat them, even if they had caught us off our guard and launch the first satellite. Back then, the skies mattered, things that were above us mattered and, as Reagan mentioned, it was the manifestation of human spirit and courage that drove us to “slip the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.” No wonder that astronaut ranks right up there with firefighter and police officer when little kids are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Not anymore. Nowadays, our eyes have turned from the heavenly bodies, back to our own. It is the athletes, their physiques and the amount of money that they make that rivet the attention of America. “So what, more people died in the World Trade Center!” and ” . but Brandon Bowman and Drew Hall are so hot” are the defenses that I hear. No one is denying those claims at all, but, seriously, there are some occasions when the cynicism and sarcastic pot shots of post-modernism need to take a back seat to the human spirit. It does not matter that, other than the first Israeli going into space, this particular space mission was not particularly exceptional. It does not matter that everyone on the mission was a career astronaut and that going into space to conduct scientific experiments was their job. It does not matter that there was no Christa McAuliffe to add some type of emotional human angle to the explosion. What matters is that these people were seven humans who took the mantle of their country into the very stars themselves. Unfortunately, the only thing to come back down will be the spirits of these brave people. For all of Georgetown University, both caring and uncaring, I wish that these new martyrs of science and space rest in peace among the very stars that we all have dreamed of reaching.

Chenel Josaphat is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. The Last Spoonful appears every other Friday.

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