Analysis: Loss, launch a poignant convergence
July 23, 1999
Web posted at: 9:43 p.m. EDT (0143 GMT)
By Carin Dessauer
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two distinctly different events converged this week: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister Lauren Bessette died in a plane crash, and, the first female-commanded space shuttle went into orbit. While on the surface, these two events -- one a tragedy, touching a nation and the world, the other an exciting milestone in history -- appear to have nothing in common, they really do.
In fact, they are linked in several ways. They are tied together by what the space program meant to John Kennedy Jr.'s father, President John Kennedy. President Kennedy is credited with launching the American space program. So the story goes, after President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, the newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson asked Kennedy's grieving wife, Jacqueline, what she wanted done to honor her husband. She replied that she wanted the Cape Canaveral Space Center named after Kennedy. So with just days remaining in 1963, the center was renamed the Kennedy Space Center.
President Kennedy believed in the space program not just because he knew that it was a way for the country to grow and learn, but because the program represented something much bigger. It represented a core value for President Kennedy, a value shared by his son John, that life is about taking risks and living life to the fullest.
That very point of how to live one's life links the two events. John died doing something that he loved, something that required a willingness to take risk. Those who participate in the NASA space program share this vision for life. Rather than being scared by the unknowns of space, NASA participants embrace the challenge, relishing the sheer adventure of that unknown.
It is the half-empty, half-full analysis of life. And for John Kennedy Jr. and Colonel Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle commander, who went into space early Friday morning, the glass was and is half full. In fact, it was and is overflowing.
So I could not help to sense a poignancy on Monday, when I was at the Kennedy Space Center for an eventually postponed launch, that this historic space mission was set to happen as the news of John Kennedy, Jr.'s death was overwhelming us all.
A senior official with NASA told me that a shuttle mission would never be scrubbed "for public relations reasons." And then said that John Kennedy, Jr. would never have wanted that. Another member of the NASA team said that by launching the shuttle it "is a different way to continue the Kennedy legacy."
Patricia Ireland, President of the National Organization for Women, also on the ground at Kennedy Space Center, sighed when I asked her about the convergence of the two events. "It has the potential to diminish the excitement" of the mission, Ireland said. "And, at the same time, it reminds us that progress must go on. That it is bigger than any one connection to the past."
So as the shuttle conditions and then the weather prevented the shuttle from launching until the third try this week, it seems fitting that the launch would take place only after Kennedy, his wife, and sister-in-law were buried at sea on Thursday.
Shuttle launched: One giant leap for womankind
July 23, 1999
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