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FF Sparks (Casual)

For the Challenger explosion in 1986, I was only 9 years old; I only remember little bits of it. I remember someone telling me at recess, 'Did you hear? That teacher who went into space is /dead/, blown into a million pieces! I wish that would happen to /my/ teacher...' and being both horrified and dubious. I didn't believe it, until I saw the flag of the school being lowered to half-mast, and then it felt like my world had fallen apart.

When I was younger, I wanted badly to be an astronomer. Drama was my pastime, and archaeology and astronomy were my passions. The telescope I kept in my room, the printouts on my wall of the times of meteor showers and comet sightings so I could try and schedule camping trips and hikes when I'd be able to see them...those are what actually earned me the nickname 'Sparks.' (After Ellie, Jodie Foster's character in Contact, who was called 'Sparks' by her father in all the flashback-to-childhood scenes.) I wanted to go into space and see these things more closely. I loved the movie 'Space Camp,' because I wanted so badly to go to something like that. When I was a little older, I even would bike down to the astronomy building at the University of Washington to read the latest NASA journals, to the amusement of the astronomy students. And with my fascination with archaeology, I dreamed of being able to go into space and find alien ruins on another planet to study. With the naive attitude of a child, I had decided at one point /that/ would be my career, studying alien ruins on some other planet.

At 9, the idea that the shuttle had exploded was the end of the world to me; the invincibility of my heroes was shaken. It was partly the Challenger accident that drove me into computers and engineering; I started learning to program because I was filled with childish determination that when /I/ was old enough to go into space, I'd have done everything I could to make it safer. I started learning computers, I got electronics kits and learned wiring and how to read electrical diagrams. Even to college it influenced me, where I was majoring in archaeology and minoring in astronomy. And even though in the end I dropped out of college and went with my engineering and programming talents, it's still very much a part of me. Even though I know I would have trouble with the shuttle now, after the plane crash I was in when I was much younger that leaves me still nervous during takeoffs, there's part of me that yearns to explore the realms out there. I still read the NASA journals online, I listen to the internet broadcasts of shuttle communications and I follow the space program.

And on an emotional level, though I'm trying hard not to show it, the loss of the Columbia today affected me as much as the Challenger did. Now I'm older, and I've been a software engineer, a system engineer and a microchip engineer. I have enough experience to know that no system is foolproof, that no redundancies are absolute, and that the level of accidents with NASA is astronomically low especially considering the outdated technology. But on an emotional level, it still affects me. On some level, I still yearn to be up there. These eight men and women are more of my heroes...and once again, they're lost.

Rick Husband. William McCool. Michael Anderson. David Brown. Kalpana Chawla. Laurel Clark. Ilan Ramon. Names that will be soon enough forgotten -- how many remember Ron McNair, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Michael Smith and Francis Richard 'Dick' Scobee, the Challenger crew besides teacher Christa McAuliffe? -- but they'll live on in memory nonetheless.

They believed in a dream for all mankind, and reached out to attain it. They reached for the stars...and I know their spirits now soar among them. They worked to explore and discover, and that makes them heroes to me. And so, I salute them.

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