For 50 years, humanity has been straining at the leash of gravity. Those drawn to this endeavor come from all kinds of backgrounds, and for a host of different reasons. The one common thread running through it all is a desire to see the species break free of the limitations placed on us by virtue of birth, to push our understanding of ourselves, our world, and the larger universe around us ever outward. It’s a pattern of behaviors repeated throughout history, with its share of ups and downs. Finding the Northwest Passage, circumnavigating the globe, crossing the Atlantic, or spreading west of the Mississippi, we have pushed against the environment, geography, and political forces to move Beyond.
Any frontier contains danger. If it did not, then the advance and spread of humanity would never have been checked in the first place. The functional definition of “frontier,” for this purpose, is the place beyond which we cannot proceed, certain of our safety. When confronting these frontiers, exceptional men and women have stepped forward and proferred themselves in service of a greater good, to push into those boundaries and see what lies beyond them. Many have lost their lives in the effort. We owe a debt to those explorers that we can never adequately repay, save to remember the price they paid.
Today is a designated Day of Remembrance for 17 of those explorers. I’m too young to have seen Apollo, watched Challenger disintegrate live on television in my elementary school classroom, and got the call about Columbia from a coworker in the space program. I’ve watched hearings, read reports, and prepared reports for release to accident investigators and the public. I’ve also had the good fortune to meet some of the men and women that continue to suit up, strap in, and blast off to blaze the trail for humanity’s future. It’s my fervent belief that the job they do should never be taken for granted, and that these sacrifices never be forgotten. Nothing about spaceflight is “routine,” no matter how many launches we make.