(this intro is from the liner-notes to my CD Columbia: We Dare to Dream)
I didn’t know them. I didn’t know their names, or that they had been in space for sixteen days, or that they were called the “STS-107” crew, or even what “STS” meant. But I was sitting next to my piano on the morning of February 1st, 2003 when I heard the news… the awful news that the space shuttle Columbia had just broken apart upon reentry, 200,000 feet high in the skies over Texas, and that the entire crew had undoubtedly perished. It was unfathomable. I hadn’t known them, that crew of seven, but my heart was suddenly searing with pain for their families.
In the days and months that followed, I was rarely far from the piano, I couldn’t leave the piano. This music just poured out like a flood; it poured out of nowhere, for the Columbia space shuttle and all who had loved her, for the astronauts and for their families. And very slowly I began to discover who these seven astronauts had been.
It didn’t take long to find out their names and their amazing accomplishments. What was surprising to me was to find out that they had been “astronauts” in the truest sense– not people who were born as heroes from the start, but people who instead had been ordinary human beings with incredible attitude, extraordinary attitude… human beings that had been innately curious to explore the universe, human beings that had had unwavering determination and perseverance in everything they had undertaken, that had refused to give up on their dreams, human beings who had worked relentlessly for most of their lives to learn whatever was necessary to serve humanity in space.
And serve us they did, doing more than 80 microgravity experiments, experiments that could only be done in space and that might potentially benefit the lives of every person on the planet. I didn’t know the STS-107 crew, and I’m sure they didn’t know my name, but they flew for me anyway. They flew for all of us, to make our lives better. And that means they flew for you too.
Not everyone gets to fly. Only a limited number of astronauts have ever flown in space, and yet thousands of noble people have worked their lives behind the scenes to help to get them there… engineers, scientists, contractors, technicians, mission control specialists, support personnel, secretaries… and that huge pyramid of support people does not stop there. The pyramid extends to us, it includes you and me, because without our support and our interest our astronauts cannot fly. Without us, the dreams of spaceflight and exploration die, our technology withers, and the quality of our lives stagnates.
So here we are in this huge pyramid of people who are responsible for helping our astronauts to get into space, and they know it. Every time our astronauts risk their lives and climb atop a live rocket, they are acutely aware that they represent us, that they are flying for us, and they feel that honor and risk and pressure. They are our fingertips, reaching out to touch the unknowns of the stars, reaching out to make our lives better.
They dare to dream, but so do we through them. We dare to dream. If you have any doubts of that, just watch a video of any space shuttle launch and see if you can keep your heart from leaping, see if you can keep your mouth from saying, “Oh gosh, wow.….”. Yes, we dare to dream; it is a part of who we are as human beings.
When we dare to dream, sometimes we fall. And fall we did, terribly, on that February morning of 2003. But does that mean that we should stop and never pick ourselves up, never learn and never dare to dream again? That would be the most horrific of all tragedies: for us to give up on Columbia, for us to forget them, our fingertips. True heroes do not forget those with extraordinary attitude. True heroes never give up, even in the lowest of times. And true heroes never hesitate for too long after falling down, but instead climb to their feet with even greater knowledge and purpose.
We owe it to Columbia and to ourselves to continue their mission, our mission, of science and exploration of the heavens. For it is in this type of reaching and exploration that you and I can become more than we thought we could ever be as human beings; through this we can also become “astronauts” in the truest sense: dedicated, unselfish explorers with extraordinary attitude.
To the Columbia STS-107 crew, to their families, and to all who helped build, maintain, and fly the world’s first reusable magnificent spaceship: this music is for you. It is for all of us who dare to dream.
copyright 2008 by Anne Cabrera