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Completing the Mission After 21 Years

Published by Klaus Schmidt on Thu Aug 9, 2007 7:33 am
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(NASA)
Editor’s note: In 1986, Ed Campion was a NASA public affairs officer working on the Teacher in Space program. Now news chief at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, he sent this e-mail to friends offering his personal thoughts before the launch of STS-118. He graciously gave the NASA Web team permission to post it for all to read.

Dear Friends:

It is time for another one of those periodic rambling e-mails that yours truly is famous for sending out on occasion. I know I’ve missed sending out year-end summary of activities in holiday cards and promise to give the complete Eduardo recap at some point later this year but for now, I just would like to talk two numbers: 7,861 and 1.

Most of you are already familiar with my NASA career, but for those friends who have come into my life more recently, I will give a short background briefing. Way back in 1984, yours truly was a fresh-faced young public affairs officer assigned to the space agency’s new Teacher-in-Space project. For the better part of a year, I basically spent night and day with the national selection process, the 10 finalists evaluation and finally the naming of Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan as the prime and back-up Teacher in Space finalists. Through several more months of training and media activities, everything was driven towards the day that a teacher would fly on the space shuttle.

On Jan. 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger, with the 51-L crew aboard, launched at 11:38 a.m. It was my first launch and as the shuttle rose off the launch pad, it was the most awe-inspiring sight I had ever seen. All the long work hours that had been put in just seemed to disappear and the feeling was one of, “Wow, the dream has finally come true.”

And 73 seconds later, the dream became a nightmare.

The plan had been for Christa to teach two live lessons from space. She was going to tell kids about what it was like to live and work aboard the space shuttle and why space exploration was important. Instead, the lesson taught that day was the frailty of human life and the horrible price that is sometimes paid in humankind’s exploration efforts.

But that is enough about Jan. 28, 1986, and here is where those two numbers I mentioned earlier now come into play.

It has been 7,861 days since the Challenger accident. Think about all the things you have done and have experienced in the last 21-plus years: the different jobs you’ve had, the people who have come into or gone out of your life, all the new places you have visited, things you have learned, etc. Now think about this: Barbara Morgan has been carrying the teacher-in-space banner that whole time.

She has endured more media attention and public scrutiny than most politicians or celebrities have to bear and through it all she has stayed true to her beliefs. She could have made herself out to be a victim or tried to make money in some tell-all book or just walked away and tried to resume a quiet normal life but she believed in what the teacher-in-space concept could do. She recognized the potential the program had for inspiring youth she has carried that promise for the last 7,861 days.

And now we are 1 day away from Barbara finally getting the opportunity to fly aboard the Space Shuttle.

If things go as planned, Barbara and the STS-118 crew will launch aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour (the Shuttle that replaced Challenger) at 6:36 p.m. tomorrow evening. I’m down at the Kennedy Space Center press site and I’ll be standing right where I was standing so many years ago. People have asked me if my being at KSC is for closure or just wanting to be part of the media support team for the 118 mission, and I’m sure those are elements are in play.

I just know that deep down in my soul there is no place else I could be tomorrow.

So depending on what you’re doing on Wednesday night, turn on your television and watch an event that will hopefully remind you that there are still people like Barbara who can inspire all of us.

Take care,
Eduardo

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