NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–“This is a sad and tragic day,” Richard Land said Feb. 1 as he opened his weekly radio program, “Richard Land Live!” just hours after the Columbia space shuttle had broken up over Texas during its reentry into the earth’s atmosphere.
“We have lost seven heroes, the best and the brightest, as their spacecraft streaked across the skies of north-central Texas, only 16 minutes away from a landing at Cape Canaveral,” Land said on the nationally syndicated mid-day talk program that airs each Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. Eastern over the Salem Radio Network (www.richardlandlive.com).
Land said he knew the loss of Columbia would cause many people to question the wisdom of the space program but he trusted America would continue “to push back the frontiers of knowledge.”
“We have had a huge payback for every dollar invested in the space program,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Far more lives have been saved through the discoveries that have been made as part of the space program than have been lost in attempts to explore space.
“The technology that makes it possible for me to talk into a microphone in Nashville and for people to hear me all across the country is a result of the space program,” Land noted. “If it weren’t for the technology created as part of the space program, we would not have satellites and the ability to transmit … most of the programs you listen to on the radio and television.”
The STS-107 mission was a purely scientific one, Land said, noting that dozens of experiments had been completed onboard Columbia that could be much better conducted in space than on earth, many of which were medically related.
The seven astronauts worked in two shifts around the clock to complete experiments to gain new insights into combustion and fire-suppression that cannot be gained on earth, Land said, listing an experiment that compressed granular materials in the absence of gravity, to further understand construction techniques; experiments that allowed different types of cell cultures to grow together in weightlessness to enhance their development of enhanced genetic characteristics — one will be used to combat prostate cancer, another to improve crop yield; experiments to grow protein crystals to study possible therapies against the factors that cause cancers to spread and bone cancer to cause intense pain to its sufferers; an experiment that examined developing a new technique of encapsulating anti-cancer drugs to improve their efficiency; and more.
“The space program has paid back many more dividends in terms of benefits to mankind over what it has cost in taxpayers’ dollars. The question is whether it’s worth the cost in human lives,” Land said. “There are those who say we could use the money better on the earth to alleviate human needs. It seems to me that that’s a very shortsighted view. For every dollar the U.S. has invested in the space program, the nation has received back much more in technological and biomedical advancements.
“I grieve for these seven heroes because anyone who decides to go into space is a hero. They were dedicated to a cause beyond themselves. I trust their families and their friends will take some comfort in knowing that they died doing what they loved to do, what they had spent a significant portion of their lives training to do, seeking to do, and honing themselves and their skills in order to do,” he said.
“The human spirit is a questing spirit; we want to know things. God made us that way. God created us with a desire to know more about his creation. He created us as curious and inquisitive creatures and the human spirit will continue to quest,” Land said.
“I must tell you that even in spite of this tragedy today if NASA sent out a call for a chaplain for the next shuttle voyage, I’d apply. I’d go without a bit of hesitation,” Land said. “Our life is not in our hands. The future is in stronger hands than ours. We can face it fearlessly, knowing that we are in his hands.”
Land acknowledged that people “sometimes forget because of the extraordinary expertise and technological know-how of our space engineers and our NASA program that space flight is a very dangerous, hazardous activity.”
Only days earlier the astronauts onboard the Columbia had joined the NASA team on the ground in remembering the seven astronauts lost in the Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger explosion and the three astronauts who perished Jan. 27, 1967, when a fire swept through their Apollo 1 command module during a ground test at the Kennedy Space Center.
Land recalled that during the Jan. 28 memorial Columbia commander Rick Husband, a devout Christian, remembered the astronauts’ “ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives and service to their country and for all mankind.”
Citing John F. Kennedy’s 1961 challenge for the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of that decade and to bring him back again successfully, Land quoted the president from a 1962 speech in Houston as saying, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
“Americans have always stretched the frontiers and explored the unknown,” Land said.
“The space program could not have a bigger supporter than myself,” he said. “I grew up in Houston. The manned spacecraft center is in Houston. The astronauts live in Houston. I was in Houston when Alan Shepard Jr. became the first American to travel in space on the suborbital flight of Mercury’s Freedom 7 flight in 1961.
“Yet I don’t think I have ever felt more of a sense of personal and national satisfaction than I did in July of 1969,” Land continued, “when I sat in a swing in my parents’ backyard and listened on the radio to the landing of the Eagle on the moon. We Houstonians are always fond of reminding people that the first words from the surface of the moon were, ‘Houston, this is Tranquility Base. The Eagle has landed.'”
Dawn Wyatt contributed to this article. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: WORTHY INVESTMENT.