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Son joins shuttle engineer father to pen song in memory of Columbia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Joe Rucker was a force to be reckoned with as a kid. He always had the most exciting pictures for “Show and Tell” in school, and whether he had friends whose parents were firemen or veterinarians, it didn’t matter. Joe’s dad was the coolest — he helped build space shuttles.

That sense of pride in what his dad, Jerry Rucker, has done for the last 20 years as an engineer with NASA contractor U.S. Space Alliance has been temporarily replaced with an enormous weight of sadness. After hearing the news that the shuttle Columbia broke apart in its return to earth following a 16-day mission Feb. 1, Joe’s thoughts and prayers immediately turned to the man he has always been so proud of.

“I called right away to check on him,” said Rucker, a mail services employee at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. “He didn’t really want to talk about it at first.”

One of a handful of people responsible for attaching the foam insulation to the external tank that launches the shuttle up to space, Jerry Rucker and his fellow crew members have an enormous amount of pride with each mission that’s successful — and a heartbreaking sense of responsibility when one fails.

His dad even wrote a song, “Blast Off Columbia,” that was recorded by Roy McCall and Southern Gold in 1980. It was used to wake up astronauts John Young and Robert Crippin on their first morning in space.

“I can remember watching as a kid when the Challenger exploded,” Rucker reflected. “My dad works in the vehicle assembly building there at the Kennedy [Space] Center. He was on top of the building, just three miles away from the launch pad. He had the closest view of it when it exploded.”

Only a strong faith in God can get a person through something of this magnitude, Rucker said.

“My dad’s faith is extremely strong,” Rucker said. “Obviously, you’re going to grieve, but moving on is the best thing. He’s at work today, there to answer any questions and take care of anything that comes up.”

Rucker and his father, who is a B.M.I. writer and a member of the Nashville Songwriters Association International, have penned a song about the tragedy that they hope will bring some healing to the families and those affected by the accident.

“It’s important that we remember the families of these astronauts in prayer, but also pray for the workers,” Rucker said. “They’re going to be psychologically affected as well.”

They hold to the verse of Scripture in Isaiah that President Bush also referred to in his comments hours after the shuttle was lost.

“Look up and see: who created these? He brings out the starry host by number; he calls all of them by name. Because of his great power and strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26, HCSB).

America, We Must Carry On
words and music by: Jerry and Joseph (Joe) Rucker

America, land of liberty
We must be triumphant through pain and tragedy
Because of the brave, we are strong
America, we must carry on

Columbia, we’ve watched you through these years
We’ve seen the joy of your victories
Now you see all of our tears
Because of your brave, we are strong and
America, we will carry on

So let’s climb the heavens one more time
Remember the brave seven, let’s keep their dream alive
This is our song, with God along
America, we must carry on

We’ve cried these same tears before
Apollo 1, Challenger, they still cut to the core
But our God above, he guided us and
America, we have carried on

So let’s climb the heavens one more time
Remember the brave souls, let’s keep their dream alive
This is our song, with God along
America, we must carry on

America we will carry on.

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  • Sara Horn