Sometimes things go well, sometimes they don’t. Success is more likely when plans are made carefully, important details aren’t overlooked, and a commitment to excellence remains strong. 

Last week offered a reminder of that, with two significant anniversaries related to the U.S. space program. January 28 marked the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger exploding high in the air 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral. The crew of seven included school teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first of several teachers NASA had planned to include on Shuttle crews as both an educational and public relations effort. 

The Challenger disaster, like John Kennedy’s assassination, is one of those things that people who were of age at the time tend to remember well. Most people over 35, I suspect, could tell you where they were or what they were doing then they heard about it. I remember distinctly that I was driving from Boone to Durham, where I was to stand for my preliminary exams as a major hurdle in my doctoral work. I was somewhere just east of Greensboro when I heard the news on my car radio. As an lifelong space fan, it impacted me greatly at the time and afterward. Fortunately, I was still able to concentrate sufficiently to do well on the exams.

While we remember a mission that ended too soon with the Challenger, two robotic rovers that landed on Mars in January of 2004 have exceeded expectations much further than anyone ever could have expected. The Rovers had a planned active life expectancy of three months after arriving on Mars, but they kept going for a year, then two, then three, four, five, six …

The Rover called “Spirit” finally stopped responding to commands last spring and has entered a low-power hibernation, though NASA engineers are still attempting to reawaken it. The other rover, “Opportunity,” is still going strong, having driven a total of nearly 17 miles during seven years of active science-gathering, following commands from earth to explore craters, rocks and unusual formations. 

As January draws to an end, I wonder how many of us have failed — or exceeded expectations — in keeping our New Year’s resolutions or generally getting along in life? Wherever we are on that spectrum, as long as we still breathe it’s not too late to keep trying, to keep pushing, and to do the best we can. 

That’s about as much as anyone has a right to ask. 

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