Lesson: Heroes / Loss of Columbia


Discussion of the Columbia accident on Feb. 1, 2003

- Space Shuttles are amazing machines.  Takeoffs (with lots of explosive fuel) are like flying on a bomb, and landings are like crashing but with a little bit of control.  Temperatures reach thousands of degrees during re-entry into the atmosphere, and the shuttles have to be repaired for months after each use.
- Many potential risks involved: being hit by meteor or space trash, explosion at takeoff (e.g., Challenger), burning up at landing (e.g., Columbia), and mechanical failures (where can they escape to in space?)
- Basically, no viable escape method for astronauts (Columbia cannot dock with the International Space Station).
- Probably there was damage to the left wing and the superheated air (called plasma) leaked in and caused the shuttle to break apart.

Definition of a hero

- someone who does something great
- have to die? Dying is an unintended effect, not a requirement
==> Going beyond the call of duty for a proper & moral cause far greater than yourself and your interests.

Why do we call these astronauts heroes?

- knew the risks but still wanted to go
- did not do this for fame – most of us never heard of them until the accident
- did it for science
- they love what they do – but this does not make them less heroic

Who else can be considered as heroes?  Why?

9/11 firefighters
- told to evacuate after the first tower fell
- some heard the order but still want to help others escape
missionaries to Third World countries
- knew the risks at uncivilized or unfriendly areas
- during the 19th century, many highly-educated English students gave their lives for missionary work
Israeli pilots’ bombing mission against Iraqi nuclear plant (one of them was Ilan Ramon, one of the Columbia astronauts)
- knew the danger of sneaking into Iraq to bomb a nuclear plant
- volunteered to do so because they believe they can save their country
- shut down Iraq’s nuclear program for at least 10 years

Heroism vs dumb bravery

- burning building – if the building is burning, would you run in to save your child?  Your dog? 
- saving an injured comrade in battle (use the scene from Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down, or HBO’s Band of Brothers) – if there is a sniper shooting at your group and one of your comrades is hit, should you run out to help him while the sniper is still at large?

Tricky discussions (suitable for mature students only)

Can the following be considered heroes, and why (or why not):
- Japanese Kamikaze pilots – hope to defend their country against Americans; ram their planes or ships into American ships
- Palestinian suicide bombers – want to fight off Israelis; set up bombs in busy city streets or buses
** Compare Japanese Kamikaze pilots vs. suicide bombers and see the difference
- Paul going to Jerusalem despite revelations about forthcoming arrest – was it bravery?  Why did God tell him about being arrested?  Could Paul have done more for God if he didn’t go to Jerusalem and get arrested?  Could he had some something else so he wouldn’t be arrested?  Remember he asked to appeal to Caesar. 

There’s a little hero in all of us.  We just need to let it grow and one day let ourselves be real heroes.

Ending story: Little hero in the making

    When little five-year-old Samuel heard about his grandmother sponsoring a Mexican girl, he emptied his piggy bank and asked me to send it to the charity to help someone.  His $16.25 in nickels and dimes was nearly enough to help send someone to school for a month.  He didn’t risk his life for some grand deed, but his small selfless sacrifice is a small bit of heroism growing up in his little heart.
This lesson was developed by George Huang.  Got a question or want to publish this lesson?  E-mail me.

Last updated: 3/8/03