"We will honor them by continuing the space program and learning from the tragedy, by taking the course they would have wanted and proceed full-speed ahead to finish the international space station, travel to Mars and then the stars."
- Rep. Kohring
Saturday morning in Juneau I awoke stunned to the news of the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia. I felt physically and emotionally jolted as I watched the scene 207,000 feet above Texas. Seven very brave, honorable human beings died in a flash seen around the world. It was enough to make a grown man pause and cry.
I did, briefly.
A million questions whirled through my head. What caused the spacecraft to burn up? Why do we honor these particular men and women when at the same time there are numerous deaths in the United States every day with no special media attention given them? I sought the answer by looking up the biographies of the deceased astronauts.
Every time someone dies in this country there is likely a grieving widow, husband, brother, sister, aunt or uncle. Taken one at a time, each knows the pain of their relatives passing. As individuals we feel dreadful when loved ones die. And we suffer and endure as individuals. But when an entire crew of valiant astronauts perishes in an instant we take notice. We take notice because they represent us to the entire world.
The astronauts, indeed all of NASA's efforts are an American beacon to science, to rationality, to the future. The astronauts are superior Americans and, in part, other nationalities, who have paved the way to the stars with their incredible courage and tenacity in the face of instant death or the possibility of being marooned in space.
When I researched the lives of the Columbia Astronauts, I was amazed at the depth and breath of who they were. They were not merely the "Best and Brightest," they were far more than that. For example:
Of the seven people on that spaceship, six were pilots, five had extensive jet fighter hours. Two were medical doctors and jet pilots, one earned a PhD in science. Another, William McCool the pilot of Columbia was second in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy. Yet another had a Masters Degree from Creighton University in 1981 and was a jet pilot. They averaged 45 years of age and were of the most educated and competent human beings on the planet. Yet, they were the kind of people who would help you if you were broken down on the highway in the rain, and if you offered them money would politely refuse.
We admire them because they represent all the virtues we hold dear as a modern society: courage, strength, stamina, intelligence, and the willingness to risk death if necessary to accomplish a worthy goal. And we know now that those convenient cell phones we use so often are a direct result of the space program. The astronauts were basic explorers who brought the most magnanimous hearts and active, reasoned minds to the great adventure of space.
When these magnificent men and women's heroic hearts were incinerated so quickly Saturday morning over Texas, my heart was hurt also and I'm sure that many Alaskans felt the same. We admire them, we hold them in great respect and honor their efforts because they were exceptional people doing important scientific research for all of us.
We will honor them by continuing the space program and learning from the tragedy, by taking the course they would have wanted and proceed full-speed ahead to finish the international space station, travel to Mars and then the stars. Our hearts are rent by their deaths but we are resolved to press on for their sakes and ours. To that end we Alaskans join all of America to salute the finest men and women free nations produce by maintaining the space program and making it flourish.
The astronauts died for exploration, for adventure and for America. We thank them for their ultimate sacrifice and hold their memory dear. May God bless them and keep them forever.
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Vic Kohring is a fifth term Republican, representing Wasilla in the Alaska State Legislature and is Chairman of the Special Committee on Oil & Gas.