Stepping Over The Edge

Some events are distinctive.

30 years ago it was freezing in Florida. The air was still. Temperatures were low. The freeze was killing the crops. Not a great day to be a pallet guy in Florida.

I’d gotten up early to make a sales call in Tampa. The call was completed and I was headed back east to Bartow on Interstate 4.

The talk show radio show I was listening to was interrupted to broadcast the launch of the Challenger.

I listened to the countdown. Heard the liftoff.

Glancing to the east, I could see the bright light of rocket along with the plume. The cold, clear conditions caused the plume to stick out. The flat geography in Florida made it possible to see.

All of a sudden, the plume zigged away from its straight, arcing path.

“That doesn’t look right,” I thought. The mission control commentary on the radio silenced.

Soon, the voice returned. “Major malfunction” it said. I found myself praying that the astronauts would be able to wrest the ship to the ground.

But, the voice again: “The capsule has exploded.”

Believe it or not, back in 1985, CNN was a new thing. Events like the Challenger exploding assured it would be with us going forward.

The news was filled with stories of the astronauts. One of them was 36 year old Ron McNair. He was a mission specialist, an MIT trained African American Doctor of Physics. In 1986, he was a pioneer on many fronts.

As CNN scoured the world for information about the astronauts, a video of McNair speaking from a church pulpit surfaced.

Here’s a quote from the speech:
“If you want to do something great, you have to be willing to step over the edge.”

That line is what I think of when I am reminded of the Challenger. Every time. I always remember that leadership requires stepping over the edge from time to time.

It’s been an inspiration.

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