In memorium: The Shuttle Columbia:

In memorium: The Shuttle Columbia
: When I was a boy, my son’s age now, I wanted to be an astronaut; so many of us did.

That is why the tragic loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia will likely affect my generation in ways that our children probably won’t quite understand.

Astronauts were heroes to us.

Astronauts fought our enemy then with intelligence and technology, not guns.

Astronauts won their war; soldiers lost theirs.

Astronauts were the knights in our Camelot.

Astronauts explored our world just when we thought the exploration was done.

Astronauts made science cool. We would not have so much of the technology we hold dear today — even this Internet — had astronauts not inspired young people back then to devote their lives to science.

Astronauts made curiosity an act of bravery and devotion.

Astronauts were neat.

I remember lying in bed when I was a boy imagining that I was inside the Mercury capsule, surrounded by enough buttons to run a thousand radios, in control (thankfully, Tom Wolfe had not yet ruined that illusion). I went to the Smithsonian and held that artifact of my age in awe.

But the greatest accomplishment of science is when it manages to make the awesome routine and part of our everyday life and the astronauts did that, too.

I didn’t become an astronaut. I didn’t watch their launches or landings anymore. I accepted space travel and its rewards. Our children have, too. Astronauts are pilots. Astronauts are scientists. Astronauts are still neat. But astronauts aren’t heroes anymore … until they die.