Triumph to Tragedy


As NASA's Space Shuttle program continues to wind down, I'm reminded of a launch I covered for AFP back in January 2003. It was kind of a routine launch, with Space Shuttle Columbia scheduled to carry seven astronauts into orbit. The crew included Rick Husband, Willie McCool, Michael Anderson, Kalpana Chawla. David Brown, Laurel Clark and , notably, the first-ever Israeli astronaut, Ilan Ramon.

I decided to drive down to Jetty Park in Cocoa Beach, just south of Kennedy Space Center and see what was going on down there. Looking around, I saw the usual mix of beachgoers, fishermen, spce geeks and sightseers on the beach and jetty. Then, just moments before the launch, a group of 3 men caught my eye: Orthodox Jews Nachman Segal, Dov Kok, and Neftaly Hertzel were standing on the boardwalk waiting to view the launch. I introduced myself and the three men told me that they had travelled from South Florida to watch the first Israeli astronaut begin his historic journey in to outer space. The re was nothing profound in their presence at the launch, just there simple pride and there desire to be there as their countryman entered his name on the roll of space travelers form the planet Earth.

I asked if they would mind if I photographed them watching the launch and they said that would be fine. The launch was no more spectacular than any other launch and the photos were not particularly outstanding. As the space shuttle disappeared from view, we said our goodbyes and went of on our separate ways.

A couple of weeks later I was sitting in an office at Daytona International Speedway preparing to photograph the start of the Rolex 24 at Daytona auto race when I heard the tragic news that the Space Shuttle Columbia had disintegrated on it's return to Earth, with the entire crew perishing in the accident. My thoughts went to the three men whose paths I had crossed on the beach in Cocoa a few weeks earlier and tried to imagine what their thoughts might be following the pride they had felt a few weeks earlier.

I also realized again that life carries no guarantees. Today's triumphs are for today. Enjoy them for what they are and always be prepared for what life might have in store around the next corner.

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