Reuters / NASA

The space shuttle Columbia lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 16, 2003. 16 days later, just 16 minutes away from landing, Columbia disintegrated over the skies of Texas. 

The seven astronauts onboard were Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, Rick Husband, William McCool, and Ilan Ramon.



The Ultimate Journey

Plane crashes, train wrecks, ferry mishaps and even terrorist attacks are occasionally reported in this online travelogue, mainly to express sympathy for fellow travelers who deserved more than the faulty modes of transport or security that failed their lives. So often has this been done, however, that a friend noted an unwelcoming morbidity, undermining this site's very purpose of celebrating the joy of wanderlust amid challenge and risk.

Although I now agree with him, I must beg his indulgence once again to observe one more tragedy. Surely 1st February, 2003 deserves a few words.

Prohibitively costly and confoundedly politicized, the human space flights launched from the United States, Russia and soon, China -- with participants from many more nations -- are nevertheless the consummate endeavour towards technological progress, scientific discovery, and international cooperation. That notion aside, the most down-to-earth thing one can say about blasting off to space is simply this:

What a trip. Oh man, what a trip.

Of all the wonders of space travel in fact or fiction, ponder only this: what is it like to see, with your own eyes, all the familiar outlines of Earth's oceans and continents printed on a map? What is it like to see, in but a fleeting moment, the entire sceptered isles of Britain and Eire, so oft shrouded by the storms of the Atlantic? Imagine or recall the awe of standing atop the the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon or Kilimanjaro for the first time, and raise that to the power of a million plus one.

Whenever anyone goes to space, he or she becomes the eyes, ears, mind and heart of all humanity. May the courage of the seven astronauts from America, India and Israel -- and that of all other explorers before them -- always be remembered.

Charles Weng, 2nd February 2003


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