Tuesday, February 01, 2005


Why are they showing pictures of Mir?

February 1, 2003 was scheduled to be a big day for me. I had an appointment with the dentist first thing. After that, I would get a haircut. Then I would wash some of the road salt off of my car. Yessir, a big day indeed. But first, some screwing around on the computer.

I don't remember when it was that my mom called me to tell me that ground control had lost contact with Columbia on its re-entry. My first thought was Geez, I forgot that they were landing today. My second thought was about the movie Apollo 13; while I am too young to remember the actual event, I remember the tension captured in that movie when ground control lost contact with the re-entering capsule for a brief period. They'll find them again, I thought. Probably just a misaligned antenna or something.

I went out to see if there was any news about the incident on TV, and I was greeted by familiar-looking pictures. Why are they showing pictures of Mir? I remembered watching the images of the Russian space station Mir being unceremoniously destroyed by intentionally deorbiting it and letting it burn up in the Earth's atmosphere. The great station, at times the second-brightest thing visible in the night sky (after the Moon), broke apart and burned up in several pieces, looking like a collection of meteors flying in formation. It was beautiful and tragic, a sad thing to see, knowing that Mir would never again shine brightly as it trundled across the heavens.

But why are they showing pictures of Mir now? And then I realized: This wasn't Mir. And contact with Columbia wasn't going to be reestablished.

Televisions are ubiquitous in American society. There was one in my dentist's waiting room; I quickly changed the channel from the Saturday morning cartoons to one of the many other stations showing news coverage of the unfolding tragedy. There was one in the barber shop where I went after the visit to the dentist, where I saw the really huge chunks of Columbia that had rained down on a band of states stretching Eastward from Texas.

I came home and felt sick. It had been just over 17 years since the Challenger disaster. The shuttle program was finished. Without the Space Shuttle to run servicing missions, Hubble was finished. The dream of Space - the conquest of Space - was drifting into our storied past, and the future held nothing but the promise of war. People were dead, horribly dead, burned alive, asphyxiated if they were lucky, turned into a swarm of shooting stars falling through the morning sky. We shine like a burning star, falling from the sky...

U2's The Fly wasn't the only song going through my head. The The's Love Is Stronger Than Death came into my mind, and stayed there for a while. I was moved to create an image using the STS-107 official logo - Columbia's final mission - and incorporating lines from the song. I'll share it with you here.

Columbia remembered Posted by Hello

And maybe the words of the song will turn out to be true. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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