How proud I was as each member of the flight crew took the time to check the Official Flight Kit and touch my stars and stripes. As the countdown continued, and the engines roared to life, I felt the same inadequacy which had nearly overcome me when first I rose the Capitol flagstaff. The noise and vibration were frightening, but my crewmates seemed to take it in stride, so I tried to relax and accept the rough ride.
I never knew what actually happened. There was a tremendous explosion, and it became very hot. The medallions that travelled next to me in a separate container in our locker melted. Once proud symbols themselves, they became only memories and mere lumps of metal. I feared for my own life and wondered if I, too, would become only a memory. Then the vibration ceased, and an eerie silence ensued. For an instant, I saw my crewmates as they were released from earthly bondage, standing together, outlined against the sky, and united in purpose for one last moment. Then, suddenly, they were gone.
I had the sensation that I was falling. My vision dimmed as the waters of the ocean closed over my vacuum-packed, air-tight container, and I drifted gently downward for a long time. Finally, I felt a jolt, and I came to rest.
I was in the dark for a long time. Weeks turned into months. One day, light broke through my plastic wrapping, to find me back in the preflight area at Kennedy Space Center. When I learned that I was going home again, I thought of my crewmates...and I wept.
from the book Threads of Honor: The True Story of a Boy Scout Troop, Perseverance, Triumph, & an American Flag (p. 41-42) by Gordon Ryan
Challenger Monument at Arlington National Cemetery
Columbia Monument at Arlington National Cemetery
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