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"The Greatest Risk is to Take No Risks"


My title for this blog is a quotation in the Washington Post from June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Astronaut Dick Scobee who was the commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Today is the 20th Anniversary of the Challenger disaster.

I remember being in a hotel room in Los Angeles that morning, preparing to go on a fund raising call to some Georgetown lawyers who worked in Westwood (I was Georgetown Law Center’s assistant dean for development at that time). The TV was on in the background; I was vaguely aware of the shuttle launch countdown. But by January 28,1986 space flight had become something routine. The special notice given to this particular flight was the presence of the very first “civilian” astronaut — a teacher by the name of Christa McAuliffe.

As I was preparing to leave my hotel room, I looked at the TV screen and saw those two awful daggers of smoke across the bright Florida sky where one jetstream straight up should have been. I turned up the volume and heard somebody saying that there was a “problem.” It was a heartbreaking tragedy.

But brave women and men persisted, space flight resumed, and only recently we had another reminder of the great risk when the Columbia Shuttle blew apart on re-entry. But still, other astronauts took up the challenge, and dangerous rockets once again launched men and women into orbit.

June Scobee’s words are so important for all of us to think about: “The greatest risk is to take no risks.” Without the risk-takers among us, we would have no advanced civilization. We’d be hiding in caves, afraid of the shadows. Like the philosopher king of Plato’s allegory, astronauts and the explorers who came before them force us to lift up our eyes to show us the light of the universe. On this day let us remember them with thanks for their sacrifice and inspiration.

For more go to or to the website of the Challenger Center or to

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: