Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 1 pre-launch test failure that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the Challenger explosion, and Feb. 1st marks the Columbia disintegration. I had no idea all these dates were so close together, though fortunately the actual events were all separated by decades.
At a time of such division and strife I find it reassuring to reflect on these accidents, tragic though they are, and what they represent about us as people–in short, the best of us. Humans have an innate drive to innovate and explore, and the space program represents the highest realization of that drive. Every astronaut puts his or her life on the line for the sake of human advancement, and these astronauts all made that ultimate sacrifice for us.
Science makes life easier for us, and it cures illness and keeps us alive. And yes, it enables us to destroy ourselves with shocking efficiency. But it also gives us a perspective we didn’t have before. It helps us understand where we came from and where we may be going. It helps us make decisions. The space program in particular gave Carl Sagan the chance to show us the pale blue dot we’re all clinging to in the void. We are small, the universe is large, and we need each other.