Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
on the Loss of the Crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia
February 4, 2003
on the Loss of the Crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia
February 4, 2003
Today, here in the Senate, in Houston, Texas, all across the country; and in places throughout the world, people of all faiths and from all walks of life will take a moment to remember the tragic loss of the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia this past weekend. As we do, we will put aside our differences and come together as a family to remember those who were lost and the great cause for which they gave their lives.
For me, the story of this past weekend's events begins when I was growing up, a Boy Scout who was fascinated by rockets and rocketry. That interest continued to show itself as I became a young man who was fascinated by the two latest creations of the day – television and the start of our space program. As science worked to develop the tools we would need to explore outer space, television gave us all a front row seat so we could see what was happening.
Back then, the early successes in rocketry – mostly by Russia – fired our imaginations and steeled our will to win the race to reach the heavens. It was only natural for me and the people of Wyoming to feel so moved – after all – we were the products of the pioneer spirit. Our ancestors had left the comforts of the East behind and headed West looking for a new life and to explore what was then, the new frontier. They were pioneers.
As television became a more common addition to our homes it brought the next new frontier – space – into our living rooms. Each day we could see the latest events of the day that were happening around the world beamed right into our living rooms. We watched in fascination as things that were happening miles and miles away were seen right in the comfort of our own homes. For me, the stars of the sky came in second place in importance only to the stars of the space program. Me and my friends, especially those who had been in the Scouts – all wanted to be just like them.
I still remember the days when we would go to a local field and work on our own experiments in rocketry. Then, as we grew older, when a new flight was announced by NASA, we would grab the first chance we had to watch it as the miracle of television brought the wonders of space flight to our homes and our schools. Competition was with the Russians. Now cooperation is with the Russians in space and on the space station.
Our efforts to explore space and the continuing impact of seeing it all live on television made for a powerful pair as we heard the words of John F. Kennedy as he challenged the nation to land a man on the moon. His vision led us onward and upward and it wasn't all that long afterwards that my wife and I, newlyweds, feeling a personal stake in what we saw on the television before us, sat spellbound as we watched Neil Armstrong take his one small step on the moon that meant so much for all mankind.
Neil Armstrong was part of a long line of astronauts who braved the odds to do the impossible as, together as a nation, we reached for greatness. Over the years, there had been disappointments, failures and tragedies, but with each success we felt like we had a grip on the process and that the odds would be forever in our favor.
Somewhere along the way, in the years that passed, we forgot that space can be a cold unfriendly place and that space flight brings with it great risks and dangers as well as great rewards. We forgot the lesson learned from the early days of the space program – that when we dream great dreams and achieve great successes, we are also courting great danger. We think of the shuttle as an airplane and we know how safe airplanes are.
That danger was brought painfully home when we watched the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. All at once and without warning, the reliable space machine we had come to trust and take for granted blew up and disintegrated before our eyes.
I remember that day so well because it was the day we were to send our first educator into space, Christa McAuliffe. In schools all over the country, children and their teachers watched excitedly as a school teacher prepared to make her voyage into space. When it ended in tragedy, a lot of fathers and mothers sat down that night with their children to talk about what they had seen at school that day. They got a lot of tough questions from little children with sad eyes who wondered why these things have to happen.
Mothers and Fathers have no answers for those questions and they can only say that sometimes bad things happen to good people. They can only hug and hold and remind their little ones that there is a God and somehow He works all things for His good. Someday we may know what that good is, but for now, all we can do is trust and hope and pray.
Now we have felt that pain for a second time. The first brought us an awareness of the risks we take in exploring the unknown. It reminded us that, despite the best of planning and preparation, sometimes things happen that we could never have possibly prepared for. Now we watch these events unfold for a second time with a different sense – and from a different perspective. We remember the risks of space flight, but as we mourn those who were lost, we renew our feeling of determination and our resolve to succeed no matter the odds or the obstacles to be overcome.
The crews of the Challenger and the Columbia will be forever linked in our minds, tied together by the same terrible helplessness we felt as we watched both tragedies unfold. Each time we searched for answers that we knew would never come. In the end, each time we found ourselves more determined than ever before to move ahead, and to continue the exploration of space that must never end. And, in the end, that is the important lesson we will take with us. We may experience defeat, but we will never be defeated. In this and all we pursue in life, we will ultimately succeed as long as we hold true to our dreams and follow our star. And the success is far-reaching. I have heart repairs that would not have been possible without the space program. Science moves on, stimulated by the unknown, represented by space.
When the crew of the Challenger died, President Reagan comforted the nation with the words that the crew that had slipped the surly bonds of Earth had reached out and touched the face of God. This past weekend, President Bush assured us that the "God who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today."
Then and now, both crews left us with our eyes gazing toward the skies and the heavens above, hopeful and prayerful that if they had to leave us, they had done so in pursuit of a better place as they returned, not to Earth, but to their home in God's holy heaven.
This night, and the next, and for many to come, when we go out on our back porch or sit in the backyard and look up at the stars, we will remember the Challenger and the Columbia and their valiant crews. The lights of the sky will remind us of their indomitable spirit and our pledge that as long as there are stars in the skies, we will never stop reaching out to them to explore, to dare and to dream. In space and on Earth. That is our life, our legacy and our shared vision as Americans. It is what makes us unique and it is why our nation will always be known as the land of the free and the home of the brave.