It's hard to believe that it was 27 years ago when the space shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean off of the Florida coast.


It's hard to believe that it was 27 years ago when the space shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean off of the Florida coast.

It was an event which defined a generation.

There is no doubt that astronauts know the danger they face when flying into space. It simply comes with the territory.

But on that day, the tragedy was made greater by the loss of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who had won a contest to fly in space.

That made Challenger a highly watched event in America. Ironically, one of the reasons for the teacher in space program was to bring more interest into spaceflight.

By that time, flights of the space shuttle fleet had almost become routine. Interest among the public was beginning to wane so NASA decided to fly a civilian into space to raise that interest.

It was a good plan until the morning of Jan. 28, 1983 when just seconds after lifting off from the space coast of Florida, Challenger blew apart because of a faulty O-ring in one of the solid rocket boosters.

The nation was stunned and President Ronald Reagan delivered one of his most memorable speeches that evening.

In the ensuing years, the nation would again witness a space shuttle tragedy when Columbia broke apart over Texas while reentering the atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003.

In both cases, human error was to blame. It was a culture at NASA which led to the loss of 14 American lives and it almost ruined America's space program.

Since that time, the shuttle fleet has gone on to have great success, however, that ended when the fleet was retired. Now, America relies on Russia to shuttle our astronauts to and from the International Space Station.

We are also relying on private enterprise to develop reliable space travel in order to deliver supplies to the brave souls who work all year round at the space station.

Yet something seems to be missing.

America's space program has floundered and lost its sense of awe among the people of this country.

That is a real tragedy itself.

This nation rallied around the space program in the 1960s when President John F. Kennedy challenged NASA to fly men to the Moon, land them safely and then bring them back to the Earth. All before 1970.

Brilliant minds collaborated and somehow pulled off what many believe is the greatest technological achievement of all time.

The people of America celebrated when man first stepped onto the Moon. We even cheered when a great tragedy was averted and Apollo 13 somehow made it back to the Earth with all three astronauts on board.

And even the space shuttle had great success with telescopes and building the wonder of the space station.

But what is next?

That is one of the biggest questions facing those Americans who believe manned space flight is not only desirable, but necessary for us to move forward as a people.

Yet the appetite among the elected leaders doesn't seem to be there when it comes to exploring the galaxy.

Private enterprise might someday be able to spark that interest, however, it seems a national program would do it much better.

It's hard to think in large terms when it comes to space and time but there will come a day when it is absolutely necessary.

Sure, that might be hundreds of thousands of years from now, but that time will come. Time does march forward.

It would be a real shame if this country decides reaching out to the stars just isn't in our best interests. Not only can it rally a people, it is vital work for the future of humans on this planet.

Maybe a day will come when wiser heads prevail and our priorities include exploration. If you think about it, it's how this nation was formed. Explorers have always been a common thread for us, from Columbus to Lewis and Clark. We've always sought to solve the unknown.

Hopefully, that spirit still lives among us. It apparently just needs rekindled.