I will never forget the cold January morning when my Elementary school gathered the entire student body in our shoddy gymnasium to watch a Space Shuttle launch; the year was 1986, the astronaut Cabbage Patch Kid was one of the hottest holiday items, and space exploration captured the imagination of a nation who still felt a deep sense of pride in being American.
The buzz amongst the students felt electric, excited to see the Challenger escape the surly bonds of the Earth’s gravitational pull and… in a flash it was over. And there was silence.
“And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly.
And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s take-off. I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.“
Reagan gave context and meaning to the tragedy, and in doing so, provided a definition of “courage.” The astronauts were brave because they risked their personal welfare for something greater than themselves; the Challenger crew gave their lives to aid in “the process of exploration and discovery,” in order to attain the greater good of “expanding man’s horizons.”
Courage had a sense of lofty selflessness, and it was this noble trait that we collectively honored.