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Hail Columbia
[February 1, 2003]

By Nicholas Provenzo

Commander Rick Husband, pilot William "Willy" McCool, flight engineer Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist Michael Anderson, medical officer and flight surgeon Laurel Clark, mission specialist David Brown, and Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon were killed today when Space Shuttle Colombia broke up during reentry into Earth's atmosphere.

When one thinks of the summit of achievement, one thinks of men and women like our astronauts. They harness forces of unfathomable power and use those forces for the betterment of human knowledge. Before their deaths today, these heroes went unsung. Now, like those brave pioneers who went before them, their memory will be immortal.

We recoil in horror at the loss. We ask ourselves how such a thing could happen in our technological age. We weep for the families who lost the ones they loved.

Those of us who remember the loss of the Challenger and the Apollo fire before then, are reminded that great leaps often entail great risks. Yet we should be loath to say that the heroes of Columbia died for space flight. They lived for it, and that included the real risk that they might die. They turned space into a new frontier; a frontier that speaks to our every potential as a species.

One must take quick notice of the reported reaction of the Iraqi people to the loss of the Columbia. "We are happy that it broke up," Iraqi government employee Abdul Jabbar al-Quraishi said. "God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans. They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us," he said.

Abdul forgets himself. The people of the United States have never allowed an accident to deter us from our place among the heavens. The technology that the men and women of America's space program created is the same technology that defends us. Saddam will be removed as a threat to the world in part due to the achievement of those men and women. I personally will relish that day.

But in a moment like this, one must not focus for long on the negative. I am reminded of the words of the American hymn "Hail Columbia" by Joseph Hopkinson.

Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

We stand wounded, but not defeated. One day, the flags our men and women carried with them into space will fly on the surface of Mars. And on that day, we will once again Hail Columbia.

Nicholas Provenzo

Hail Columbia
By Joseph Hopkinson, 1798.

Hail Columbia, happy land!
Hail, ye heroes, heav'n-born band,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
Who fought and bled in freedom's cause,
And when the storm of war was gone
Enjoy'd the peace your valor won.
Let independence be our boast,
Ever mindful what it cost;
Ever grateful for the prize,
Let its altar reach the skies.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Immortal patriots, rise once more,
Defend your rights, defend your shore!
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Let no rude foe, with impious hand,
Invade the shrine where sacred lies
Of toil and blood, the well-earned prize,
While off'ring peace, sincere and just,
In Heaven's we place a manly trust,
That truth and justice will prevail,
And every scheme of bondage fail.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Behold the chief who now commands,
Once more to serve his country stands.
The rock on which the storm will break,
The rock on which the storm will break,
But armed in virtue, firm, and true,
His hopes are fixed on Heav'n and you.
When hope was sinking in dismay,
When glooms obscured Columbia's day,
His steady mind, from changes free,
Resolved on death or liberty.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

Sound, sound the trump of fame,
Let Washington's great fame
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Ring through the world with loud applause,
Let ev'ry clime to freedom dear,
Listen with a joyful ear,
With equal skill, with God-like pow'r
He governs in the fearful hour
Of horrid war, or guides with ease
The happier time of honest peace.

Firm, united let us be,
Rallying round our liberty,
As a band of brothers joined,
Peace and safety we shall find.

 

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