On January 28, 1986, the NASA space shuttle, Challenger, launched toward the heavens. Its mission was particularly significant to the press because one of its crew members was Christa McAuliffe. Mrs. McAuliffe was a schoolteacher who was chosen from among 11,000 applicants to take part in this exciting mission to space.
At the time of the launch, thousands of teachers and students were watching the event—excitedly cheering for one of their own. Christa’s parents watched the launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. 73 seconds into its flight, the Challenger unexpectedly broke apart—killing all seven of its crew members.
To Touch the Face of God
Following this tragedy, President Reagan delivered a speech from the Oval Office of the White House. In his address, he said this:
I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.
He concluded his remarks with a quote by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., saying that the crew “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
Starstuff Pondering Stars
I was born on January 29, 1986, the day after the Challenger disaster.
When I was quite young, I remember seeing a picture of the explosion and asking my mother about it. She pointed to the smoke and said that it was “star smoke,” and that people “came from the stars.” She smiled at me and said that I “came from the stars the very next day.”
That had a profound effect on me. For years, I firmly believed that I came down from that “star smoke,” and that I—and everyone else—literally came from the stars.
But it’s actually true.
In reference to our bodies, Carl Sagan wrote that: “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
On another occasion, Sagan said that we are “starstuff pondering stars.”
But I believe there’s more to it than that. I believe there is something eternal about our nature—about our spirits. Each of us is a divine, immortal child of God. That truth is sometimes spoken casually, but it is deeply profound.
The light, the potential, and immortality within us is far brighter than the moon or even the stars. As author Neal A. Maxwell once said: “You have never seen an immortal star; they finally expire. But seated by you tonight are immortal individuals . . . “
And that thought gives me immense hope. It helps me see light in the midst of terrible darkness or disasters. It is my hope to be more like my mother, to point at smoke and wreckage and see starstuff—to keep my eyes on heaven and, no matter what happens, “touch the face of God.”