Columbia Martyrs Didn’t Die in Vain

CHICAGO – I’m as far from callous as the next guy who avows empathy, but bettering human life sometimes requires the sacrifice of human death.

Though the seven brave souls who perished aboard the incinerated Space Shuttle Columbia didn’t choose to die, they chose to fly and embraced the consequences of their heroism.

The peacefulness of space is as alien to me as tasting death itself, but Columbia’s crash evokes to mind the movie “Contact” with Jodie Foster, who starred as “Ellie” the atheist scientist. I think of her being whisked away millions of light years to a time and a place that man couldn’t venture to in a thousand lifetimes.

There, she’s on a delusional beach. There, she’s the one human being out of billions who was chosen to confront an alien species for a greater good. There, she’s alone in her humanity.

Though she blasted back to Earth in a swift jiffy and arrived intact, she was prepared to surrender her life for the answer to a fleeting question that had cosmic implications (“Why?”). Though cliché, in her zealous brain, the good of the many outweighed the good of one. Held true to another chestnut, her little life was worth the chance for such mammoth corollaries.

Laurel Clark, who ePrairie has grown to hold especially dear following an interview a day before her launch, knew Ellie’s rationale with uncanny precision. So did Rick Husband, Kalpana Chawla, William McCool, David Brown, Michael Anderson and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who lived and died at Clark’s side.

While Columbia’s crew varies dramatically from Ellie in that they didn’t make it home, they have a striking semblance in their rhyme and reason. Without discounting for a single trice the angst of the family members who have survived the spectacular seven along with the millions of dollars lost in research and development, tragedy must be accepted for what it’s worth.

Disaster is a beast with a prince veiled somewhere within. Though sadness devoured at our heartstrings when we learned of Columbia’s fate, a redeeming purpose lies beneath. If you seek it, it will come.

An optimist by nature but a realist by habit, I always like to find an awe-inspiring positive in every dejected negative. What happened when the nation mourned the thousands of lives lost at the World Trade Center? Anger morphed into a tighter-knit country, a closer community became proud and our pride inspired us to rebuild reinvigorated.

That’s what we’ll do now.

Symbolically, we’ve already held hands by banding together in front of our television tubes across different cities and at similar times. After our eyes watch and our ears listen, our hearts feel and our minds reason. Then, our mouths open and other ears listen.

Our huge country gets smaller. People embrace kindness. At some point and for whatever reason, we’re all bound to experience our very own epiphanic moment whereby we realize that the things we wrangle over are petty. Hey, at least we’re alive.

I most certainly don’t state that as a hah-hah poke at the fact that Clark and crew aren’t. I say that because they’d want us never to forget it. Also cliché, they’d want us to go on. Life will anyway, so they’d want us to live, learn and find the buried gems in Columbia’s twist of fate.

For Clark, it’s not in the research. Talk about an irony. What she wanted to bring back to Earth she didn’t, and instead, her being was ripped from her and we remember the beauty of life. Had she been available for interview for this column, I think she’d want that from you.

Speaking of paradoxes, one more is the notion of technology’s value. I’m a technology reporter an ePrairie is a business and technology Web site. Why spend so much time talking about the annals of life without much regard to the technology behind it?