The Human Spirit

Twenty-five years ago, on January 28, 1986, the world lost seven of its best and brightest citizens when the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed as it launched into space. Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis were lost when their spacecraft exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on that brisk January morning.

At that time, I had only recently begun to make contact with other personal computer users on a server which sponsored what was called a “bulletin board,” (BBS) which was a place where you could exchange ideas and post messages to others in “user groups.”

My computer at that time was a Commodore 64, and the user group was called, “The Computer Connection,” described on the introductory page as “a not-for-profit organization addressing educational interests of personal computer users.” You connected to the server by dialing the phone number, with the phone jack connected to a device called a “modem.” You could upload text files either directly or from a word processing program, and there were a number of “directories” containing files on all sorts of educational and recreational topics which you could download to your own computer.

Before long, I became engaged in several of the “conferences” which contained discussions on everything from personal computing to rock music. The one that caught my attention in the summer of 1985 was called the “Philo Conference,” which dealt with ideas in Philosophy, Science, and Religion, and how all three were related. As you might imagine, I immediately found myself posting messages and responding to queries posted by other users.

The person who ran the BBS, the “Sysop,” was the host of the Philo conference, and was a professor at Jefferson Medical College who divided his time between teaching and research in neuroscience and pharmacology. As it turned out, I was the first person to post a message in the Philo conference, since he had only just brought it online a short time before I came across it. We immediately began a vigorous discussion and enjoyed a rewarding friendship which lasted several years.

On January 20, 1986, I posted a message about a television show called, “Teacher in Space,” a documentary on NBC about Christa McAuliffe’s training and preparation for the shuttle launch. I speculated that we might be able to “take a trip into outer space as civilians by the year 2000.”

When the accident occurred, I wrote a message that night which expressed my inability to put into words, “the feelings evoked by the tragic loss of the seven astronauts,” and closed by saying how I thought we could “best honor (their) memories by achieving the goals of space travel in spite of the loss.” The sysop wrote in the only response that the astronauts were “space pioneers,” who valued the knowledge gained by space travel “enough to take the risks – they exemplify the best of the human spirit.”

He added in closing, “that spirit has characterized humanity from antiquity and it remains.”

In an article by Clara Moskowitz for MSN.com, she quotes Barbara Morgan, who “later became the first educator astronaut to reach orbit:

“We can never predict the future, but we can help shape the future. And if we want that future to be bright and open-ended and be one of lifelong learning, we’ve got to keep reaching for the stars.”

Here is a link to the full article:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41275796/ns/technology_and_science-space/

May we continue to remain open to the future, regardless of the risks.

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One comment

  1. plainsmann

    Well, the two year jump from your last blog posting and this one landed me in a surprising place: I wasn’t anticipating to find myself surrounded by Flight, one of my long-standing interests, which in this instance is devoted to space flight and astronauts. Again, in the other blog I just opened, one of the figures in those six I mentioned, wrote a book I read in 1967, which is all about the space program and the original Seven who left their imprint on it forever. Glad to see your interwoven interests overlap with others of mine. And, your comments here about your “Sysop” and computer colleague — being the researcher in neuroscience and things pharmacological he was, provided still another area of overlap with my own path traveled in the past. For at the start of my doctoral program I spent a fair amount of time looking into brain function with a man then working at the Emory School of Medicine, who switched from a specialty in Psychiatry to one in Pharmacology to “make his studies more precise” — though laughing at himself and his own naivete in failing to take into account how greatly individual differences in one’s biochemistry affected all this. Admirably humane to find your teacher, pharmacologist, and colleague able to find such depth of meaning in a word like ‘spirit’ and apply it so aptly.

    (By the way, it occurs to me I didn’t mention the name of my other blog (which I’ve now had occasion to mention twice — and without my doing so, that you’d have no way of knowing how to reach it if you wanted to get greater detail on what, exactly, I was making reference to. Anyway, that blog here at WordPress is Gateways into the world, and the specific posting which made the extensive reference to the space program points to the late Oriana Fallaci, the Italian journalist, is entitled “Behesting: & the Historical experience of life.” And now you have it)

    Now, continuing to make my way through your interesting postings.

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