They died heroes, yes, but
Did not die heroic deaths.
They died because “Wise Men” who
Should have been their guardians
Had no fear of ice.
There were no stirring fanfares as they died,
No battle-bloodied banners fluttering high
Against a stormy sky, but a crying
Out in rage and fear as all around them
Faithful, snow-white Challenger was torn
To jagged shreds; their heads, I’m sure,
Turned this way and that
In frantic search of answers
As thermal tiles spiralled
Past their windows before their weeping
Shuttle’s sweeping wings
Were wrenched from its shoulders
To tumble from that cloudless sky
Like sheets of tattered paper,
Flipping over and over, over and over
In so-slow motion before slamming into
The slapping waves, countless smaller pieces
Falling like charred confetti
All around, all around, all around…
I saw it moments later –
Almost live, just past five –
Sitting cross-legged by my TV, waiting
Impatiently to see yet another launch
Go flawlessly; waiting for the SRBs,
To quietly peel away, jobs done,
Leaving OV-099 to thunder
Onwards, piercing the balloon-thin
Atmosphere, leaving me and all
Earth’s woes behind, carrying Christa
To within a hand’s reach
Of the gleaming stars themselves –
Instead: an awful orchid bloomed above Cocoa Beach,
An ugly blossom of white and angry red
Painted on the sapphire sky
High above the wide-eyed, puzzled
Crowds, the only sound the click-
Clacking of that famous flip-chart countdown clock
That had read “73” when
Something Had Gone Wrong.
“Obviously a major malfunction”
A cold voice said, at last.
As if we hadn’t guessed that for ourselves.
In centuries to come their statues will stand
On the ruddy sands of Mars and in Luna City’s
Earthlit parks; one day sleek and shining starships,
Bearing their names, will enter orbit around
Kepler and CoroT’s closest worlds
And all alive in those golden times will
Speak their names with pride.
But that won’t change the fact that they died
Because “Wise Men” had no fear of ice.
© Stuart Atkinson 2011