Earlier today NASA announced an exciting new discovery made by the Hubble Space Telescope. The announcement comes on the heels of another announcement recently made by the organization. In the next six days, NASA will formally recognize its three major space-related tragedies. The first one happened on January 27, 1967 — 44 years ago from tomorrow. A fire broke out in an Apollo I module during a routine test about a month before launch. The blaze killed three astronauts — Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White II and Roger B. Chaffee in what was NASA’s first major tragedy.
Sadly, it wouldn’t be their last. But without these tragedies, the advancements we’ve made wouldn’t have been possible, which means we’d be unable to learn news of the type NASA delivered to us today.
The most recent tragedy occurred on February 1, 2003 when seven astronauts perished as the space shuttle Columbia was trying to return home at the end of its STS-107 mission. Commander Rick Husband, pilot William McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark, David Brown, payload commander Michael Anderson and Ilan Ramon all lost their lives.
It was the accident sandwiched in between those two other tragedies that made an indelible mark on me as a child — one that both my wife and I have told our 9-year-old daughter about. On January 28, 1986 Caroline and I watched the space shuttle Challenger accident live at our high school. Even as we cheered the advent of the mission, things went drastically and fatally awry just 73 seconds after takeoff. I’ll never forget the eerie silence that ensued as Mr. Livingston searched in vain for the right words. Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ron McNair, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, Greg Jarvis and civilian teacher Christa McAuliffe were killed instantaneously when the shuttle virtually disintegrated in midair.
I find it eerie that all three tragedies fell within the same week on the calendar. That said, it’s wonderful that NASA is commemorating them. For every single advancement NASA makes would not have happened were it not for the brave men and women who gave their lives in pursuit of those advancements. They’ve provided knowledge that not only makes our world a little easier to understand, but that will also serve our society in practical manners in the generations to come. Far fetched? Maybe. But I dare say no one thought we’d walk on the moon back in 1920.
But what about today’s announcement? An international team of astronomers is reporting images of the earliest formed galaxy ever — light captured by the Hubble Space Telescope which would have originated 13.2 billion years ago, just 480 million years after the Big Bang. The finding tops a discovery made last year by a team of French astronomers who claimed to have identified a galaxy formed 600 million years after the Big Bang.
According to the Canadian Press:
The vaunted 20-year-old Hubble telescope has progressively produced images of older and more distant objects. Peering earlier into space will require the more advanced cameras of NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, Illingworth said. However, it isn’t likely to launch until at least 2015.
The farther away a galaxy, the longer it takes for light from it to travel, so seeing the most distant galaxies is like looking back in time. If the new research is correct, light from the newly found galaxy would have travelled 13.2 billion light years to be seen by Hubble.
I don’t know about you, but all of that boggles my mind. Discoveries in space never fail to bring out the child in me. The one filled with wonder and awe at the sheer magnitude of all we don’t yet know for certain.
That said, I do know this much. We’d have nowhere near the amount knowledge we do have if it weren’t for the three tragedies NASA will commemorate starting tomorrow.
A sincere thank you to all the men and women who serve our country via their contributions to our space program.