Ad astra per aspera
This week is the anniversary of the tragic 1967 Apollo I disaster, in which three astronauts lost their lives.
From the first panicked “There’s a fire in the cockpit!” to explosion took only 15 seconds. Intense internal pressure prevented them from opening the escape hatch; the inferno-level temperatures fused the astronauts’ nylon suits to the interior of the cabin so utterly that removing their bodies later on took over 90 minutes. Perhaps even more gut-wrenching is the fact that this was a simulation training, not a live mission. The command module was dubbed Apollo 1 posthumously only at their widows’ request.
USAF Lt. Col. Command Pilot Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, USAF Lt. Col. Senior Pilot Edward H. White II, and USN Lt. Cdr. Pilot Roger B. Chaffee died years before I was born. Other than a brief scene in the movie Apollo 13, I never heard about this fire or these men, who were braver and more brilliant than I’ll ever be, and who sound like they were fun, big-hearted guys who left the world duller and emptier with their passing.
The plaque placed at the launch site in their memory thanks them for making the ultimate sacrifice, adding ad astra per aspera: “a rough road leads to the stars.”
Photo Credit: “LC34plaque2” by Christopher K. Davis
When we think about space travel, we think about Neil Armstrong and his giant leap for mankind. Except, that wasn’t until Apollo 11. That means there were 10 failures that took place before that one momentous success, even if no one talks about those so much.
I wish they would. Because in so many ways, failure is more important than success; it’s only by learning what we did wrong the first time around that we can tweak our algorithms, fiddle with our preconceptions, and try, try again.
Maybe not line the command module walls and ceiling with a bunch of flammable stuff next time. Maybe redesign the escape hatch entirely. Maybe fix 1,407 wiring problems. Maybe try a few more unmanned tests first.
Even when we eventually made it to the moon– ol’ Neil flubbed the script:
According to the authors, Mr. Armstrong sighed, “Damn, I really did it. I blew the first words on the moon, didn’t I?”
No success is perfect; we can only reach the stars through hardship. Ad astra per aspera.
Per aspera ad astra. Through difficulties, the stars.
This week, take a moment to thank those who have gone before, made their mistakes, paid their dues, all so you can be exactly where you are. Even if that person is yourself. Maybe especially then.