The “O” Ring

ChallengerIf you were alive in 1986, you know what that title is in reference to.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion.

I was in Kindergarten. And by this time the very next year, I wanted to be an astronaut more than anything in the world. Apparently I didn’t understand what all of the media hype was all about. All I saw was a woman in a space suit and that’s all it took.

But the pictures of the woman in the space suit, at the time, were not all over the place for little girls to be inspired. They were all over the place because something went dreadfully, dreadfully wrong and the world was anxiously waiting for answers.

I just don’t think anyone was ready for the truth. Still today, I don’t think anyone likes to hear the truth. No one wants to believe in the aftermath of one of the greatest tragedies of our generation…

That this could have been prevented.

Sharon Christa McAuliffe (NASA, getty images)

But what about those who KNEW? What about those who had the knowledge and information and proof that this was a bad idea. What about those who pleaded for 11 hours to stop the launch, and their warnings were left unheeded? How heartbreaking!

I read an article today.

About a man who was on the team that tried to get NASA to stop the launch. An engineer who saw the forecast and knew the risks and understood the pesky habit of ‘O’ rings to crack under freezing temperatures. And yet, when the information was presented to the powers that be, they proceeded with the launch anyway

…and people died.

Not “people died risking their lives on a great adventure in space.” No… people died in a preventable, forewarned, explainable and identifiable tragedy. Like the Titanic with an iceburg warning in-hand.

In this NPR article, the engineer spent 30 years of his life carrying the weight of guilt that he should have done more. That he wasn’t the man for the job. That God chose a loser to engineer spacecraft. He was depressed for thirty years because his warnings fell upon deaf ears and people died.

Yet he did all he could.

And at some point they just had to step back and watch all of the crew, all of NASA, and all of our nation suffer.

“It’s going to blow up,” a distraught and defeated Ebeling told his wife, Darlene, when he arrived home that night.

And deep in my heart I am saddened and stirred by the reality that sometimes we do our very very best to speak truth into peoples’ lives only to watch it go unheeded. And we sadly watch their demise and destruction and no matter how hard we try, no matter how passionately we plead, we cannot convince them to turn back. To trust us. To cancel the launch.

And when it does all blow up, we ask ourselves if we could have done more. If we could have said something else. If we could have pushed harder. Or dug deeper. Or gathered more evidence. Or … what?

It’s one thing in a National tragedy, to launch a full-scale investigation by the keenest minds in the business. But it’s a completely different thing when it’s personal. When it’s a loved one or a friend or a child or a spouse.

In this case, I believe it all comes down to this- we will never know their heart. For the heart is not ours to know.

Sometimes a heart is simply so distraught and so broken and so cold that no amount of wisdom will divert its blind destructive path. Hindsight can place blame and point to warning signs and triggers and pinpoint the events that may have led to their fall. But in the end, a person who is go for launch is the only one who can make the decision to turn back. No one else can make that decision for them.

HEARTBUT. That doesn’t mean we give up on them.

Mr. Ebeling, the man in the article, is not judged by the world for failing to change the minds of those in charge of the launch. He did everything he could possibly do. On the morning of January 28th, the fate of 7 astronauts was no longer in his hands. He is not to blame for the decision of NASA. On the contrary, I believe the world owes him a standing ovation for having the courage to try.

So I guess my questions are these:


Are we using all of our knowledge and wisdom and intuition and experience to speak truth and life into those around us? Are we coming alongside those on the precipice of a great launch and showing them the facts and pleading with them to pull back? Are we doing all that we can… knowing that they might make the wrong choice in spite of all our efforts? Is it worth it for us to at least try?

Because we have been put on this earth to be a living intercessor on behalf of those we love. In hindsight, let us be never be faulted for not trying hard enough.


Maybe we are the ones who need to wake up. Maybe we are the ones who need to hear wisdom and heed warning. Maybe our lives are at risk for destruction because we are, what? Too stubborn? Too proud? Too eager? Too hurt? Too cold? Perhaps we think there’s no hope. Perhaps we believe that we are too far gone to receive help. Perhaps we are too addicted? Too broken? Too lost? Maybe we are the ones who need to listen to the repeated pleadings of those around us and Stop. The. Launch.

Because people have been placed in our lives to be a voice of truth and wisdom and warning and love. But if we don’t listen… then we are to be most pitied. Hindsight will say we had the chance. We were warned. Please, don’t let us choose wrong.

Challenger Disaster



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