Continuing legacy of the American Space Program

Joe Reynolds

The space shuttle Columbia disintegrated shortly after re-entry over Texas on Feb. 1, claiming the lives of all seven astronauts on board, but even in the midst of ultimate tragedy, the glory and forethought of the American Space Program resonates loudly and unfailingly.

Public interest in the space program has steadily decreased since its inception, as the novelty of exploration has worn off, even become mundane, but what it symbolizes remains unchanged. It is the essence of American freedom – the challenging and erasing of borders that once seemed impenetrable. It is a beautiful conglomerate of passion, arrogance and brilliance that will permanently coincide with the endurance of the American spirit.

The program will persevere and grow, as it always has. Just the fact that millions of Americans no longer sit glued to their television sets in wide-eyed fascination when the space shuttle launches is a testament to how far the realm of plausible explanation has been expanded.

President Kennedy’s initial support for the space program was support for the practice and progress of innovation; there was no clear diplomatic or economic gain to be had, just a basic but almost divine belief in the possibility of genius, and a knowledge that the expanse of the American landscape is limitless.

Some 40 years ago, the prospect of “moon men” climbing aboard some mystical vehicle that would take them to the unknown regions of the universe was pure science fiction, a vicious and unattainable dream – a dream that is now routine.

Perhaps competition first stimulated American interest in space exploration. After all, NASA’s original goal was to beat the Soviet Union to the moon, but the present competition is a much more profound and self-sustaining one. It is a competition against the parameters of human accomplishment, and America must continue to set the standard.

In the twentieth century, what names were more iconic than Aldrin, Armstrong, or Lovell? Has there ever been a more decorated or romantic American figure than John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth, a four term U.S. senator from Ohio, and the famous wingman of baseball legend Ted Williams in a WWII bombardier unit? As these men live in glory, the seven astronauts (six Americans and one Israeli) aboard the doomed Columbia shuttle die as true patriots, fueled only by an insatiable quest for understanding, keepers of a sacred torch.