Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the terrible accident that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger and killed her crew. I was watching the launch that Tuesday morning in 1986; maybe you were too.
That tragedy is something people who saw it will never forget. The other thing from that day that has stayed with me was the speech President Reagan gave that night. It was truly touching – and after all these years, brought tears to my eyes when I heard it again yesterday.
If you recall it, I’m sure you remember how it ended: We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
That beautiful imagery was exceprted from a poem entitled High Flight, written by pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Magee was an American who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II (before the United States entered the war effort). He was killed at the age of 19 while on active duty in England. Shortly before his death, he penned the now-famous poem after a spectacular Spitfire training flight in which he flew to 33,000 feet.
When I visited the Air Force Academy with my father in 1990, I came across the poem in their gift shop. I was so moved by it, I purchased a copy.
Read it, and you’ll understand why it’s become a favorite of pilots and astronauts alike:
- Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
- And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
- Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
- of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
- You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
- High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
- I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
- My eager craft through footless halls of air….
- Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
- I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
- Where never lark or even eagle flew —
- And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
- The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
In memory of all the astronauts who have lost their lives supporting NASA’s mission of exploration:
Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, El Onizuka, and Christa McAuliffe (crew of Challenger), Gus Grissom, Roger Chafee, and Ed White (crew of Apollo 1), and Rick Husband, William McCool, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, and Ilan Ramon (crew of Columbia).
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