Anyone who has witnessed the launch of a space shuttle from the VIP observation area is always struck with awe. On a clear day, typical for a shuttle launch, even though you are four miles away from the launch site--a safe distance in case something terrible happens--you can still see the shuttle sitting on its launch pad attached to its gantry.
The actual launch is incredibly awe inspiring. There are huge amounts of flames and smoke. The ground trembles, and there is a tremendous, thunderous roar, and mankind's technology heads for outer space. And yet, when something like the destruction of this marvelous vehicle happens, and the humanity inside it is unceremoniously mutilated and destroyed, we realize just how puny man and his technology is to the master of the universe. No matter how much control we may think we have, no matter how much we think we can do, there is someone else who, ultimately, controls all. Nothing reminds us of this more graphically than the expiration of a human life--indeed, the wrenching of life away from us.
And what an incredible disappointment for Israel! A ray of hope, a little piece of joy to take the minds of the Israelis off their dangerous predicament for just a little while. Oh, they were so proud of Ilan Ramon. His mother was a Holocaust survivor and what a fulfillment of destiny for this man to launch into space. My friend, a rabbi in Cocoa Beach, was an invited guest to be on hand at the VIP reviewing stand for the liftoff. There he was with American brass and Israeli VIPs and there was palpable happiness and excitement amongst the spectators.
The Israelis were handing out buttons with Col. Ramon's picture on it, and T-shirts with the mission logo on it with Hebrew around the edge. It read "Ilan Ramon - Ha Astronomi Ha Israeli Ha Rishon" -- Ilan Ramon, the First Israeli Astronaut. He was bringing kosher food into orbit with him, and he had said over and over that he is not just representing Israel, but he felt that he was representing the Jewish people as well. For 17 years now, we have witnessed the many missions of the space shuttle, most going without mishap, and all of them bringing the astronauts home safely. We have a wonderful space station growing in orbit around our planet, where people can work, experiment, even launch deep space missions. We tend to think of the space shuttle as a high-performance airplane, perfectly safe, completely reliable with proper maintenance. In a way, I guess you could say that one crash every 17 years is a pretty good safety record.
But we fail to remember that there are literally hundreds of things that must go exactly right--and it all has to be 100 percent (99 percent isn't good enough). And still, just one little thing--an insulator tile crumbles off, the re-entry angle is off by a half-degree, a pound or two overweight--and there is a disaster. But computers are not God. Technology is not God. Only God is God.
The astronauts that go into space are very well aware of all of this. They know that their lives could be snuffed out in a fraction of a second. But they go anyway. They take the risk for their country and for all mankind, because they know the things they learn out there can be of immeasurable benefit. They know their limits, and they are willing to stretch and test those limits, because that is what testing new technology and going new places is all about.
And so, we mourn seven brave souls, and, among them, the special presence of Ilan Ramon. May God take them to his bosom, may he forever guard and protect their immortal souls. For now, we - mankind - must mourn them, but, with God's help, we will again pick up the gauntlet and move on. We must build on what they and those before them have accomplished, and to turn this tragic event into something that will benefit mankind and give greater glory to He who comforts all mourners, and who is the source of all things.