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The Right Stuff

Can you name the original seven astronauts?

I could once and still can, with time to think about them: Deke Slayton, Alan Shephard, Wally Schirra, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Gordon Cooper and Scott Carpenter.

As a young reporter for Houston's NBC station in the late 1960s and early 70s I got to meet and report on some of these guys and their families.

Their lives have been immortalized in the book and film The Right Stuff and more recently in Apollo 13, starring Tom Hanks in Jim Lovell's role. These astronauts, as they were called, were test pilots who volunteered for an adventure previously known and dreamed about only by science fiction writers.

Anyone who grew up with the space program and shed a tear on the night that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon July 20, 1969, will never forget it. We had beaten the Russians and felt pride in our nation.

There was a special relationship between the press and NASA. The press acted as cheerleaders for the space program, which helped it achieve its goals. We were like kids, vicariously living an adventure through the astronauts.

The astronauts who followed the original seven were no less brave, though they were less well-known. That's the way with pioneers. We remember Columbus, but who came next?

The seven who died on the Columbia, like those who died on the Challenger and on the Apollo One launch pad, set an example of excellence and selflessness for the rest of us to follow.

I found a line from Gus Grissom that puts the astronauts' daring into perspective. Gus said, "If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."

The conquest of space! What an audacious undertaking.

And it is worth it, isn't it?

And that's Column One for this week.

What do you think? Send your responses to: afterhours@foxnews.com.

 

Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. He joined Fox News Channel in 1997 as a political contributor. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America" is available in bookstores now. Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribune.com.