Sunday, January 27, 2008

TDIH: Apollo 1

"History will record[...]That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus- Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind." --Commander Gene Cernan, Apollo 17

On January 27, 1967, Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, three astronauts whose service to this country catapulted us to the moon, were killed during a launch pad test at Cape Canaveral, Florida.

It is no secret to those who know me well that I once aspired to be an astronaut. Didn't we all? I applied to Space Camp at the Johnson Space Center and attended a space simulation workshop. Math held me back and I abandoned that dream. However, like me, many young Americans looked to the space program for inspiration.

Even today the inspiration attached to the space program, especially the moon shot, that was created one September day when President Kennedy addressed a crowd at Rice University, keeps NASA afloat. Afloat in the sense that as Americans we can justify the continued efforts of NASA when they are bogged down in personnel and logistical nightmares because NASA and the space program gave us hope, hope to get through tumultuous times.

Perhaps it is the historian in me, I tend to believe that one of the many things that is great about America is the legacy of programs like the Apollo missions. Americans coming together for a cause that is more about humanity and the abilities we have collectively rather than individually.

Post-Apollo 1 we have seen the horrors of Space Shuttle Challenger, Space Shuttle Columbia, and the fears associated with Apollo 13. Our recent memory often views NASA with disgust. I would guess that the number of kids in America who aspire to be astronauts has decreased as the national affection for NASA has. We are no longer a country of dreams the way we were in the 1960s. We need a dream like reaching the moon to again excite us and bring us together.

The dream was not lost on January 27, 1967. The lives of three brave men were lost. Three brave men who are no longer known by name in classrooms around the country. Three brave men, who despite their deaths, catapulted us to the moon. The moon shot repaired a tattered nation after the deaths of many American servicemen (though only a small portion in comparison to the overall number of KIA in Vietnam) and restored the dream that died November 22, 1963.

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