My day is
drawing to an end. For most people it's been over already for hours.
It's three thirty in the morning and I suppose strictly speaking
my today has already become tomorrow. But that's not
important. I want to write something quickly. For no other reason
other than to record an event from my perspective.
at just after two o'clock, my friend Will called me at a friends
house just outside of London to tell me that NASA mission control
Shuttle Columbia as it was re-entering the Earths atmosphere,
coming home after a successful sixteen day mission.
The moment we heard the news we turned on the TV. Pictures were
already coming in from Texas where the Shuttle could clearly be
seen breaking apart as it streaked across the blue morning sky.
Something clearly had gone catastrophically wrong and as with so
many major news events today, the world sat and watched events
unravel right there in front of them, live on TV.
My first impression was horror. Clearly the seven astronauts
would not survive this. Whatever happened, whatever went
wrong, had just cost these seven people their lives.
I won't pretend to be a close follower of the space program. I
won't claim to have any idea what this latest sixteen day space
shuttle mission accomplished or even sought to accomplish. I suppose,
most people, space shuttle missions were no longer
news to me. They space shuttle goes up, they do some stuff, then
they return to earth. As much as I'd be interested in seeing the
shuttle take off an land, the media aren't as interested in those
events as they once were.
Oddly enough just a few weeks ago I was actually at the Johnson
Space Center in Houston with my friend Erin. While there
we chatted about how routine space shuttle missions had become.
So much so in fact, that their many launches and landings
no longer seem to make the news, that is until something goes wrong,
I remember clearly the
first Shuttle launch. April
12th 1981, and the Space Shuttle Columbia lifted off from its
the Kennedy Space Center on mission STS-1. I was just
ten years old and in school at the time. Classes were halted so
teachers and pupils could all watch the event on the Schools TV.
was an exciting day, in many ways merely because we were doing
unusual, but nonetheless, the
magic and wonder of that historical moment wasn't lost on me.
I remember how our teacher at the time, Mr Wynn, kept telling us
that this was history in the making and we'd all remember where
we were when the first Space Shuttle took off. I guess he was
We watched quite a few other launches of the Shuttle after
that one. Like so many others at the time, I soon got a model
of the Space Shuttle. It flew many missions fueled
by the imagination
young boy dreaming of what it might be like to be on board a real
life space ship.
Five years later, having just returned home from school,
I was watching TV as news broke that
had just exploded shortly after take off. At the time
there were just four TV channels in the UK and no cable or satellite
TV with 24 hour news networks. Newsround,
a BBC news show aimed at children, found itself at the sharp end
of history as it broke the news of the disaster to Britain before
any other UK network could prepare a newsflash.
This was clearly major news. The pictures were dramatic and without
hesitation I flung open the living room door and shouted "Mom,
the space shuttle has exploded!" She was there in a second.
I distinctly remember her drying her hands on a tea towel as we
both watched the TV in shocked silence.
I guess we thought it wouldn't happen again. It's been years since
the Challenger disaster and since that time there have been many
missions that have taken place each taking up less column inches
in our daily papers than the last . Space travel isn't news any
more. That was until today.
The 24 hour news channels did what they always do, they showed
the same pictures over and over and over again until they could
find another way of saying the same news in a different way, or
until they could find another 'expert' to hypothesize about what
might have gone wrong.
The TV news networks were prepared for this, or so it seemed.
These days they seem to be prepared for almost everything, with
cameras capturing events and relaying them live to news
anchors who are well versed in the language of drama.
As I watched the news I couldn't help feeling that this tragedy,
as horrific as it clearly was, somehow seemed less shocking than
Challenger disaster. I began to wonder if we have become
numbed by the seemingly constant stream of shocking images broadcast
into our homes each day by news stations wrapped up in their own
battles for ratings.
What happened to Challenger was certainly more visually dramatic
and therefore more shocking, and perhaps because the space shuttle
was still a relatively new thing back in 1986 people seemed
to be stunned by the event. Or maybe because these missions are
now so commonplace
we're no longer shown the human side of space travel by the media,
and therefore it's harder for us to truly comprehend that lives
have been lost.
For now at least, before I go to sleep tonight, I'm sparing
a thought for the seven people who died. Astronauts
commander Rick D. Husband; pilot William C. McCool; payload commander
Michael P. Anderson; mission specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana
Chawla and Laurel Clark; and Israel's first astronaut, Ilan Ramon.
In an address to the American people, and indeed the world, President
Bush said "The
same creator who names the stars also knows the names of the
of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth, yet
we can pray that all are safely home."
I hope so too.