Friday, January 28, 2011
What is a Hero?
The word hero, like so many other handy buzzwords, has been almost drained of its meaning by the bloodless, hyperbole addicted press of today. It seems anyone who meets an untimely death is dubbed a hero. I'm sorry, but the people who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were not heroes, although some probably were and we'll never know, they were victims.* The Chilean miners were not heroes, although the people that worked tirelessly to get them out definitely were, but you don't see any of them going to the White House. No, to me a hero is someone who consciously puts the well being and safety of others ahead of their own, and few people earn the moniker 'hero' like astronauts. Space is a very dangerous place, and getting there and back again is one of the most hazardous things a human being can do. Yet hundreds have dedicated their lives to just that. They climb into tiny, cramped tubes of aluminum, plastic, and foam, strap themselves to megatons of explosive force, and go into an environment that at any time can kill them in any number of truly terrible ways. And given how unfathomably dangerous this venture is, the US safety record is incredible. Out of the hundreds of manned space flights, including 123 shuttle launches, only 24 US astronauts died in the line of duty. Most of them are well known, since they died aboard the Challenger and the Columbia, but there are some you have probably never heard of. Pray indulge me as I take a moment on this, the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, as I list these heroes:
Theodore C. Freeman
T-38 accident, October 31, 1964
Charles A. Bassett, II
Elliot M. See, Jr.
T-38 accident, February 28, 1966
Clifton C. Williams, Jr.
T-38 accident, October 5, 1967
(the T-38 is a small one or two man training jet)
Virgil "Gus" Grissom
Edward H. White, II
Roger B. Chaffee
Killed when their Apollo 1 capsule burst into flames during a ground test, January 27, 1967
Michael J. Adams
X-15 accident, November 15, 1967
(the X-15 was an experimental high speed/high altitude plane)
Robert H. Lawrence Jr.
F-104 accident, December 8, 1967
Francis "Dick" Scobee
Michael J. Smith
Judith A. Resnik
Ellison S. Onizuka
Ronald E. McNair
Gregory B. Jarvis
S. Christa McAuliffe
Killed when Challenger exploded on launch throttle up, January 28, 1986
Manley L. "Sonny" Carter, Jr.
Commercial plane accident, April 5, 1991
Rick D. Husband
William C. McCool
Michael P. Anderson
David M. Brown
Killed when Columbia broke up during reentry, February 1, 2003
I won't go into why their sacrifices are not in vain, except to say that many of the technological advances that make life so comfortable, safe, and longer for you and me are directly beholding to the efforts of the people listed here. Because of them, and thousands of others like them, we enjoy a world that is cleaner, safer, healthier, and more enjoyable than would have been possible had mankind not looked up and asked, "I wonder what's out there". I honor these brave men and women today, and every day, for truly embodying the NASA motto: For the betterment of all.
*That is not meant to disparage the brave firefighters, police, and ordinary citizens who responded to the emergency and were definitely heroes.