Once agan, Peggy Noonan has the right words for the occasion. She also quotes the poem President Reagan recited back in 1986. At the time I was in high school and I fully intended on becoming an astronaut. It wasn’t one of those “When I grow up…” things; I had already plotted my path. I was entering Navy ROTC and going to study aerospace engineering at Boston University the next year. And so the Challenger accident touched me deeply and so did the words of that poem:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth ...
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
To me, that symbolized everything I wanted in becoming a pilot and an astronaut. To fly and to explore seemed to me to be the essence of Christian freedom. Oppressive nations and religions don’t want their people to feel free, to seek. But in the freedom of Christ we find the impulse to search out Beauty and Truth and Knowledge, to plumb the mysteries of our Universe, and thereby plumb the mysteries of its Creator. By seeking the beauty and truth and knowledge of Creation we can begin to understand Perfection of Beauty and Truth and Knowledge.
Some people ask if space flight is worth it. I suppose some of them are asking if the dollars spent are worth spending. Others may wonder if the lives lost are worth it. If those lives are risked willingly, it must be. Was it worth it for Columbus to risk it all in his desparate bid for the New World? Was it worth it for Lewis & Clark to cross the American continent? Was it worth it for the Pilgrims to brave the seas seeking freedom to worship? Notice that of these three examples, at least two had putative economic reasons behind the trip, but when you look deeper you find a different motive at the heart. Columbus and Lewis & Clark used economic reasons as a means of finding backers, but their real motivations lay in the joy of exploration and discovery.
To travel uncharted seas and trod upon untouched shores is an impulse that springs from the mind of God Himself. In the Genesis account, you can almost hear God laughing with joy as each new piece of Creation sprang from His mind fully formed; the millions of different kinds of wildflowers and bugs and trees and grasses and fish and plankton and everything. And being made in the image and likeness of our Creator we revel in discovering all that He has made.
That is why exploration and scientific inquiry is an important part of human nature. And it is why we must not hold back from that joy and that impulse. As long as there are men and women willing to go forth into the Great Deep, we must support that endeavor because as they go out they bring us with them and together, we are reminded to look up from the toil and tribulations of our individual lives to remember the joy and love that is behind all of Creation.