Posted by: COSI | February 1, 2011

Space, Inspiration, Tragedy—Woven Together

Last Friday marked a national tragedy that triggered strong memories for me.  I was teaching science, math, and computers at Sewickley Academy, so I was highly engaged with the focus of our students around the Challenger shuttle mission with the first Teacher Astronaut, Christa McAuliffe.  A desired outcome of her flight was to help re-stimulate interest among students around space travel to encourage science and math studies–something that had worked for me a generation earlier (most notably John Glenn’s flight—someone who I’ve ironically now gotten to know personally through COSI).

Crew of Space Shuttle Challenger (51-L)

Crew of Space Shuttle Challenger (51-L)

As with many of us when a significant event hits, the details of the Challenger disaster are seared into memory.  I remember being in the school library watching the explosion of the Challenger played out over and over as everyone tried to come to grips with it.  Pittsburgh felt a local connection through Judy Resnik, a Carnegie Mellon University grad, also lost on that mission.  Close friends of ours were actually at the Cape watching the liftoff in person adding another personal dimension to this event.

The news coverage on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger called to my mind the irony of the interconnections of our lives and world events.

What came to mind was the fact that flying soon on the last shuttle mission of the Endeavor (flight STS 134, tentatively April 19) will be Mike Fincke—a favorite student of mine at that same Sewickley Academy who had gone on to MIT just a year before I was standing in the SA library with the other students and teachers watching the horrific explosion of the Challenger.


Astronaut Mike Fincke aboard the ISS with the "Terrible Towel"

Astronaut Mike Fincke aboard the ISS with the "Terrible Towel"

Mike is a veteran of space flight—two long missions on the International Space Station (ISS) (Mike called me personally from space on his last mission—way cool).  So it seems fitting that instead of flying up to the space station again via Russian rockets, Mike will be revisiting on one of the last shuttle flights.  Stocking up his familiar ISS with supplies before the shuttle fleet is retired seemed an appropriate task for Mike’s first, and seemingly only, shuttle flight.

Then you weave in the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — who is the wife of Mike’s shuttle commander, Mark Kelly.

Finally in all this strange interweaving, as I was watching a pre-Super Bowl promo piece on the Steelers and the Terrible Towell phenomena, there was Mike Fincke on TV.  Always the Steelers fan, there was footage of Mike floating around the International Space Station with his Terrible Towel in support from space for the Steelers during their last Super Bowl appearance.

Sad that this whole degrees of separation thing started with a reminder of one tragedy, and includes a link to another, but it is strange how life and events entwine.


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