When I was in high school, my chemistry teacher took us to a big meeting for high school science students at the Los Angeles Museum of Science and Technology (now the California Science Center)
There were all sorts of neat demos and talks and things. I got to hold liquid nitrogen in my hand, and watched a rose get shattered like glass after being frozen in it.
There was also a presentation from NASA, including one of the Shuttle Astronauts, Ellison Onizuka, who talked a lot about NASA astronaut training, and of course his experiences on his first shuttle mission, which had been only a few months ago at the time. He was excited about space and science, and eagerly looking forward to his second mission, which was to be in the coming January.
As a kid, I had always wanted to be an astronaut and to go to the Moon. I'm sure my early love of astronomy and space exploration had an effect on my eventual decision to study physics. Although as I got older I found myself more interested in unmanned spacecraft like the Voyagers and less interested in actually becoming an astronaut, I was still fascinated by NASA's manned space program. Meeting Ellison was a great pleasure.
A few months later, I can recall sitting in my seat in Mrs. Taylor's classroom. English was my first class of the day, and halfway through the period, it was interrupted by the intercom, which announced to the school that the space shuttle Challenger had been destroyed shortly after take-off.
It was stunning news, and it seemed so unreal, since school went on, and there were no televisions around to broadcast that terrible footage. And the Internet was still a thing of BBS's and 300 baud modems.
So it wasn't until I got home and saw the news that it really started to sink in. And it was only then that I learned that Ellison had been on board the Challenger when it exploded.
Now Columbia has been lost, 17 years and four days after the Challenger disaster. Challenger was 19 years and a day after Apollo I caught fire during a test, killing its three man crew on the launch pad.
I mourn for all the explorers lost in these terrible accidents.
Newton said he 'stood on the shoulders of giants'. It's important to recognize two things about the giants that came before us.
1 - Though they may be giants in retrospect, they were men and women just like us.
2 - They made sacrifices, ranging from the miniscule to the ultimate, in the pursuance of their life's work.