National Aeronautics and Space Administration

By Dr. Kenneth M. Beck

all rights held

In 1986, seven brave astronauts went to their death (R.I.P.) when STS Challenger crashed into the Atlantic just after take off. Many Americans want to believe it was a painful yet unavoidable accident. Others, like Nobel Prize in Physics awardee and Cal Tech Professor Richard Feynman (who sat on the first and last NASA civilian investigative commission) uncovered the crisis in NASA post-Apollo.

Fatalities In Space and at Burning Man 1986-2017, the basic numbers.

  1. In-flight fatalities at NASA: 14
  2. On-Playa fatalities at Burning Man: ~ 11
  3. In-flight fatalities launched from Russia: 0

1986: The year of the first Burning Man.  It was also the first very public fatalities of STS Challenger.  From 1986-2017, the numbers stop you in your tracks.

If one is to understand how distraught America, President Reagan (R.I.P.) and the First Lady Nancy (R.I.P.) were at there meeting with such tragedy; at the loss of 7 Star Voyagers all at once (the same number as were selected for the original Mercury program) one is forced back again on The Civil War and Abraham Lincoln.  Almost by necessity.

President Reagan knew this well. It was the evening of his State of The Union Address to Congress, 28JAN1986.  The Union, he could have thought.  The United States of America…

“We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We — even we here — hold the power, and bear the responsibility.”  

“In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free — honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly loose, the last best hope of earth.  Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just — a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless.” – President Abraham Lincoln, Annual Address to Congress 01DEC1862.

It could have be this concluding paragraph that President Reagan thought most about.  All had been success for him on this day when he would deliver the State of The Union Address, but he did not.  On this day he delivered an Eulogy, instead…


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STS-51L Crew (l-r): Mission Specialist Ellison S. Onizuka, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Payload Specialist Christa McAuliffe, Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, Payload Specialist Gregory B. Jarvis, Mission Specialist Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist Ronald E. McNair.  photo credit:NASA

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STS-107 Crew (l-r): Mission Specialist 1 David M. Brown, Commander Rick D. Husband, Mission Specialist 4 Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Mission Specialist 2 Kalpana Chawla, Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Pilot William C. McCool, Payload Specialist 1 Ilan Ramon. photo credit: NASA

Postponed State of The Union

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