News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Space shuttle costs high, but its rewards infinite

Limits circumscribe our world.

Our abilities, our strength, our creativity and our energy, hem us in. Resources and flesh define our humanity.

Some of our pursuits, however, look to scale those walls. When we seek to understand an infinite God, we peek over the wall. When we try to understand the design that molded us, our focus is beyond earth's boundaries.

And Tuesday, we aimed for space once more. Not just our prayers and thoughts did we hurl into that forbidding realm, but our bodies. Rather, the bodies of the best of us. We launched them toward the infinite, despite knowing what space has done to our best in the past.

We saw what space, and our efforts to attain it, did to Grissom, White and Chaffee. To Scobee, Smith, Resnik, McNair, Onizuka, Jarvis and McAuliffe. And most recently, in a Texas fireball that sears the memory of all of us, Husband and McCool. Anderson and Chawla. Brown, Clark and Ramon.

Is space our forbidden fruit? Will our literal wings succumb to wax-melting heat?

Decatur's Jim Odom, retired from NASA and now its consultant, can measure the cost of our ambition.

He watched his friends die in the heat that dwarfed Icarus. But Mr. Odom's words deserve our attention.

"Human beings are supposed to explore the boundaries that they live in," Odom said. "Any person that's worth his salt should be pushing the boundaries of what he can do."

Odom expresses a bold proposition, and one to which we subscribe. Our lot is staked with boundaries, but our aspirations are not.

NASA's billions could do much within our limits. They could feed the hungry for awhile, or tackle AIDs. But such struggles take place firmly within our walls.

What Odom and Discovery's crew tell us is that life within the walls should defer to a glimpse beyond.

Prayer being an effort to petition beyond our walls, it is an appropriate response to the heroism of Discovery's crew.

Our prayers go to you, University of Alabama graduate Jim Kelly. And to Collins and Carmarda. And to Lawrence. To you, Noquchi, and to Robinson and Thomas.

Robert Frost pinpointed the same drive that Mr. Odom described, the same purpose pursued at such risk by those aboard Discovery.

We are imprisoned in the finite but, as Mr. Frost wrote in a poem commemorating the first flight at Kitty Hawk, our nobility comes as we seek to escape these walls.

"Don't discount our powers;

We have made a pass at the infinite."

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