"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God'."It is strange for me to think that an event 25 years ago, one that I remember very clearly, is now, in a real sense, "history." Television reports and internet twitter feeds recalled the story of the Challenger disaster that enfolded live to a shocked world audience in 1986. The astronauts were remembered, particularly Christa McAuliffe who was drafted into the shuttle crew under the Teacher in Space Project.
-- President Ronald Reagan, quoting the famous and moving poem "High Flight," written by an American who died serving in WWII with the Royal Canadian Air Force, John Gillespie Magee Jr. after the Challenger space shuttle disaster, 28 January, 1986
[John Gillespie Magee Jr.'s grave, England]
The poem quoted by President Reagan was penned by John Gillespie Magee Jr., an American poet and aviator who had joined the Canadian Air Force to take part in combat in Europe prior to the U.S. joining the war. He perished, age 21, in an air crash just 4 days after the attack on Pearl Harbour brought the U.S. into the war. He penned the moving poem about flight and the pursuit of the air months before his death, sending it back in the U.S. in a letter to his parents. By chance it became circulated, known, and after his death was included in an exhibition at the Library of Congress:
- "High Flight"
- Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
- And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
- Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
- of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
- You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
- High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
- I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
- My eager craft through footless halls of air....
- Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
- I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
- Where never lark or even eagle flew —
- And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
- The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
- Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
Read more reflections on history, idleness, and the art of living from the Idle Historian in To The Idler The Spoils