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February 01, 2003: And beyond

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"The space shuttle is floating over Texas," I heard from Richard as I staggered, barely awake, from bed to the bathroom. I mumbled something unintelligible.

"The space shuttle is floating over Texas," he repeated. "Killing all the astronauts."

And as the words sunk in and I realized that something about that statement seemed horribly out of place, my sleepy brain finally roused long enough to make him repeat himself a third time. The space shuttle wasn't floating. It had exploded over Texas as it was coming home.

Years ago, someone close to me had a friend who worked in the space program, who invited him to come watch the shuttle launch. That friend went on to become an astronaut. That friend was on the Columbia. She will never come home again.

I am not so brave, or so strong as those men and women who travel into space. I cannot think how I could face such risks, and yet still go, still leave this world and go beyond into space I could not be reached should something happen.

Braver and stronger still are the men and women who will follow those who were on board the Columbia, just as they followed those who were on board the Challenger so many years ago. The risks are there, great and terrible risks indeed. But what lies beyond the risk is more powerful still.

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