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Thirty years ago today the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing seven astronauts. It occurred 19 years and a day after a fire in the module of Apollo 1 killed three astronauts.
Both were national tragedies, and both led to political fallout that questioned the goals of the U.S. space program. The Challenger disaster in particular gave rise to a fierce debate fueled by 24-hour news, the death of teacher Christa McAuliffe, and the fact that the disaster was seen live by so many people. Perhaps, some argued, space exploration wasn’t worth the risk. It was expensive, and robotic probes could do the necessary space exploration. Perhaps we should just stay on Earth.
Despite the challenges, it’s clear that we’ve rejected that notion. We have a space station, the rise of commercial space travel, and plans to travel to the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. The future doesn’t belong to the faint of heart. It belongs to the human drive to push forward, to explore our universe, and to slip the surly bonds of Earth.