A blast of greatness

By Edward Achorn

I needed that: A blast of fresh air, relief from our incessant focus on sickness and ugliness — the coronavirus and the mob violence following an act of police brutality.

I loved this reminder of the greatness that is at the heart of America, and of our profound good fortune to be living here and now.

In an extraordinary private-public partnership, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Saturday launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into space on board the Dragon spacecraft. They are now on board the International Space Station.

SpaceX had launched unmanned missions, treating viewers to the thrilling sight of the first stage of the rocket returning to earth and landing on a target with pinpoint accuracy to be reused.

But this was the first one with the most precious cargo aboard — human lives.

We saw the two astronauts, smiling and waving, stopping to talk to children, as they prepared to climb into Musk’s white Tesla vehicles — cross-marketing — to be driven out the launch pad.

Because of clouds — and the fear of thunderstorms — there was only a 50% chance the flight would take off, worse odds than last Wednesday, when a previous takeoff was scrubbed. But the window for launch held up.

The last time astronauts were shot into orbit from American soil was the last Shuttle mission nine long years ago. America seemed to back off from space.

But we cannot back off anymore. China’s militarization of space poses an increasing danger. And there are wonders waiting for entrepreneurs, including rare minerals on asteroids if they could somehow be mined. The potential for vast riches is almost unimaginable.

Every time I watch a rocket carrying humans lift off I get extremely nervous.

I was at Cape Canaveral on January 28, 1986, covering the story of New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe, who hailed from Framingham, Massachusetts. I had spent time in Florida with her friends and family. I had talked to her warm and friendly parents, Ed and Grace Corrigan, at the VIP viewing stand shortly before the launch.

I saw the rocket go up, I heard the roaring stop, I saw the evil horned clouds, and I heard the announcer declare: “Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction.” All seven crew members, including Ms. McAuliffe, were killed.

I retain my immense respect for the bravery of astronauts and the technical skill involved in sending humans safely into space. I held my breath yesterday when that rocket slowly lifted off and I literally cheered when it jettisoned its first stage and safely approached orbit.

When the 13 colonies declared their independence from Britain 244 years ago, our technology was little advanced from the ancient world. Oxen pulled plows.

Because of the energies unleashed by freedom, we landed men on the moon and returned them to Earth in 1969. And yesterday, we moved further along the path to exploration of space.

As for the ugliness on display elsewhere — with riots reported in 30 cities — America’s noble values hold the answer. Free speech and other civil rights, government accountability, and the rule of law are the answer to the brutality of people who abuse power. Mob violence and the destruction of innocent people’s property perpetuate injustice.

Tearing down this country would only result in making the lives of people here, and around the world, infinitely worse.

(Read Edward Achorn’s books about American history.)

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