Only a few hours ago, our home south of Tyler, Texas, shook as a loud boom came out of the sky, followed immediately by secondary sounds, as if some explosions had occurred. I walked outside to see if I could tell what had caused the sounds; like one loud sonic boom, followed by several lesser ones.
Minutes later, Fox Cable News channel said “communication with Space Shuttle Columbia has been reported lost by NASA.” Then, television station WFAA in Dallas began showing a huge, glowing fireball, followed by long, multiple contrails. The moment I saw these appalling images, I knew the shuttle had blown up, or come apart as it reentered the earth’s atmosphere, killing the seven astronauts aboard.
As the news continued reporting the after effects of the tragedy, citizens in towns along a line southeast of Tyler began reporting pieces of the shuttle on the ground; in yards, lying in a roadway; a dentist said a piece had come through his office.
By now, you know all about this and have heard speculation about the possibility of a terrorist attack which brought the shuttle down. That bit of speculation is not only extremely remote, but virtually impossible. No shoulder-mounted surface to air missile could have reached the shuttle at an altitude of 201,000 feet, hurtling along at over 12,500 miles per hour.
Soon, I began hearing that pieces of the shuttle were said to have landed only minutes south and east of our home — near Rusk, Palestine, San Augustine and Nacogdoches, the latter two towns being near the Louisiana border. Hearing that some debris had landed in Jacksonville, only a 20 minute drive away, I drove there, wondering if it might be possible to have my son Mark bring our television camera and obtain pictures of the recovery process. It proved to be a false alarm — huge pyres of smoke marking ground clearing fires, and not the reported grass or brush fires started by debris falling to the ground.
This was the third disaster to befall America’s space program; the first involving reentry and landing. The other two included three astronauts dying in a fire on the launching pad, and the space shuttle Challenger disaster which had occurred seventeen years earlier, almost to the day. NASA had just completed memorial exercises commemorating the loss of Challenger prior to this latest disaster.
Our hearts go out to the families and loved ones of the seven astronauts on board, which included Ilan Ramon, 48, who was a Colonel in the Israeli Air Force and a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, one knows immediately that the sorrow felt by Israel and the United States is not shared by many Arab and Islamic nations. There is little doubt but that Saddam Hussein and his ilk are rejoicing over this US setback; that many hate-filled Islamic fundamentalists and terrorist organizations are very glad the shuttle disintegrated; happy with the black eye it gives America’s space program; happy with the loss of life. Shortly after the tragedy became known, the wives, children and families of the astronauts, waiting for a joyous reunion and welcome home for their loved ones, were taken to a separate private area, where they were given the news.
What caused the disaster?
I am tempted to say it seems obvious. However, it may be months or even years before NASA determines what they believe happened. When I learned that one of the foam insulation tiles had come loose from the shuttle and hit the wing at liftoff, and that the mission control officials had said it was not critical to the mission, I wondered.
The tiles are critical to heat absorption as the shuttle reenters the earth’s atmosphere. Computers control the precise angle of entry, so as to allow the vehicle to avoid presenting any portion of its sides or top to the extreme buildup of heat. When I heard of the tile coming loose, and then the breakup on reentry, I wondered if more tiles had come loose during the late stages of liftoff, when the shuttle would have been pulling many “g’s” (many times the force of gravity), or again, as it entered the upper atmosphere.
Perhaps we will never know, but short of a deliberate act of sabotage by a crew member (virtually unthinkable), the tragedy seems to have been a catastrophic technological failure.
The last time the US experienced such a tragedy, seventeen years ago, the shuttle missions were placed on hold for three years. Many congressional hearings were held; recriminations were made up and down the entire agency. Finally, a little “o” ring was found to have been at fault, and the company which had made the ring received a great deal of the blame.
This time, with another major setback to US pride, and with US astronauts orbiting the earth in the International Space Station, the US may have to call upon the Russian “Soyuz” to bring our astronauts home.
No doubt, many a conspiracy theorist will have a heyday over the tragedy; they will be dancing in the streets in any number of Islamic cities, and naysayers will call for the termination of America’s space program.
The tragedy could hardly have come at a worse time, with the US preparing for war with Iraq; with North Korea apparently determined to build nuclear bombs, and with the “War on Terror” an ongoing, daily concern. One scripture unavoidably comes to mind. God says that we are not a Commandment-keeping society, that we have trampled His great and wonderful laws underfoot. As a result, He says, “...I will break the pride of your power.”
Surely, our vaunted space program; our lunar landings; our almost routine, taken-for-granted shuttle missions; our great technology, constitutes a major share of American pride.
How unutterably sad and tragic it is to see a part of that pride shattered by a deadly explosion and breakup of the shuttle Columbia.
By no means do I imply that “God caused this.” God did not prevent it. There is a great difference. If we were truly a Commandment-keeping nation, God says he would so bless us that “...ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword.
“And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword.
“For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you” (Leviticus 26:7-9).
It was wonderful to hear President Bush choose the passage from Isaiah to use in reference to the brave astronauts who died. He referred to Isaiah 40:25,26, which says, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One.
“Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.”
Tragically, President Bush is excoriated by civil liberty groups, by extremists on the left of every stripe, for daring to make mention of God in his speeches. If they had their way, they would sue the president in court for daring to (in their words) “violate the principles of the separation of church and state.”
Yes, God knows the names of those seven astronauts. Their spirits are in His hands and care, awaiting the resurrection of the dead. Christ said, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live.
“For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself;
“And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man.
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
“And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (John 5:25-29).
All of America hopes those astronauts died instantly, without suffering.
May those who find cause for rejoicing at America’s and Israel’s
latest tragedy receive rewards exactly commensurate with their works.
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