Marcus' Casts: February Thoughts (2003)

by Marcus Rodriguez

This month we witnessed another American tragedy. The Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart on its re-entry to earth. I remember awaking with the sound of Mission Control saying that it had lost contact with the shuttle. I opened my eyes to see a beautiful morning sky on the TV screen with a blaze of fire and plasma streaking across it. For some reason I was not saddened by the sight. I do not know if it was because I was sleepy, still recovering from minor surgery, or just in shock. It was a weird feeling. I knew that these brave men and women were most likely dead, but I also knew that they were doing what they loved and any risk was worth it. The fireball across the sky became beautiful to me. Burning across the Texas sky at Mach 18, I knew that God was with them. The astronauts had touched heaven and the burning star led them home.

A few years ago I was able to see the Columbia blast off into space. I had been fishing for bass in Florida and on my second to last day there my family and I took a short drive to Cape Canaveral. I cannot say much about the launch except that it was fascinating. From a complete standstill the shuttle blasts off into space. Seven people sit in this vehicle, surrounded by complex machinery and volatile fuels. When described, it seems that it is so easy to pop into orbit. I think that is why many of us never think about an upcoming launch or re-entry until something tragic happens.

Two summers ago Johnny Quiroz and I witnessed the Columbia on its re-entry. It was a sultry June evening and we had finished taking a 14 mile float trip on the Blanco River. The fishing had been spectacular and to top it off with the shuttle burning the sky made the day very special. I remember I had wanted to see the re-entry, but over the course of the day I had forgotten. Johnny and I reached the take out point, and loaded the canoe. I told Johnny, "Oh yea the shuttle is supposed to fly over this evening." At almost the same instant we saw the shuttle fly over from Northwest to Southeast. It had been a tremendous day. After the fly over, Johnny and I looked at each other. The day would be hard to beat.

During the last Columbia flight, Justin Millikan was fly fishing the San Gabriel River. He saw the re-entry and thought it was a meteor. He states that he was shocked when he found out that the tragedy had occurred.

When you get down to it, I think we are all explorers. We seek knowledge, peace, and excitement. Almost anybody would risk everything to do what they love. We shoot across the skies to explore space and we shoot down rapids to explore the waters we love. We all take chances, whether it is walking in space or walking the banks of a river. We are human beings, we live, we die, and life continues.

Note: This column originally appeared in our February 2003 newsletter.

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