Saturday, February 01, 2003

In Memoriam

Colonel Rick Husband
Lieutenant Colonel Michael Anderson
Commander Laurel Clark
Captain David Brown
Commander William McCool
Dr. Kalpana Chawla
Ilan Ramon

"I remember, for my part, another of those hours in which a pilot finds suddenly that he has slipped beyond the confines of this world. All that night the radio messages sent from the ports in the Sahara concerning our position had been inaccurate, and my radio operator, Neri, and I had been drawn off our course....

We had no means of angular orientation, were already deafened, and were bit by bit growing blind. The moon like a pallid ember began to go out in the banks of fog. Overhead the sky was filling with clouds, and we flew thenceforth between cloud and fog in a world voided of all substance and all light. The ports that signalled us had given up trying to tell us where we were. 'No bearings, no bearings," was all their message, for our voice reached them from everywhere and nowhere. With sinking hearts Neri and I leaned out, he on his side and I on mine, to see if anything, anything at all, was distinguishable in this void. Already our tired eyes were seeing things - errant signs, delusive flashes, phantoms.

And suddenly, when already we were in despair, low on the horizon a brilliant point was unveiled on our port bow. A wave of joy went through me. Neri leaned forward, and I could hear him singing. It could not but be the beacon of an airport, for after dark the whole Sahara goes black and forms a great dead expanse. That light twinkled for a space - and then went out! We had been steering for a star which was visible for a few minutes only, just before setting on the horizon between the layer of fog and the clouds.

Then the other stars took up the game, and with a sort of dogged hope we set our course for each of them in turn. Each time the light lingered a while, we performed the same crucial experiment. Neri would send his message to the airport at Ciseneros: 'Beacon in view. Put out your light and flash three times.' And Ciseneros would put out its beacon and flash three times while the hard light at which we gazed would not, incorruptible star, so much as wink. And despite our dwindling fuel we continued to nibble at the golden bait which each time seemed more surely the true light of a beacon and was each time a promise of a landing and of life - and we had each time to change our star.

And with that we knew ourselves to be lost in interplanetary space among a thousand inaccessible planets, we who sought only the one veritable planet, our own, that planet on which alone we should find our familiar countryside, the houses of our friends, our treasures."

- Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand and Stars

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