Thanks to Paul for finding this letter and sharing. Everyone remembers where you were and what you were doing on 9/11. I was in a hotel meeting room watching the events unfold on their big screen TV’s. The fire season at the time was hot and heavy, and the smokejumper team I was assigned to was getting ready to head out to the airport to standby for fires.
But as soon as this incident happened, word came down that the FAA shut down all aviation in the country except for vital emergency related aircraft. So fire aircraft was still able to fly and the smokejumpers were still able to respond to call outs. We had guys on the ground in the middle of some fire fighting and having aircraft to support them was essential.
But that day, as it was for everyone in the country, was a somber day, filled with questions on what was next. How would we respond and who would we attack? Shock, sadness……and anger. Resolve is what was next…. And then here I am, no longer a smokejumper, and giving my pound of flesh to the war effort as a contractor.
What is interesting about this astronaut’s perspective of this attack, is that he could physically watch the planet bleed due to this violent act. As if humans with a large spear, stabbed New York, and the smoke and debris poured out of the wound like blood from the neck of a large animal… The thoughts of what was going through that astronaut’s brain during such a time is revealed in this letter below, and I cut out the quote in the letter that really hit home. –Matt
….It’s difficult to describe how it feels to be the only American completely off the planet at a time such as this. The feeling that I should be there with all of you, dealing with this, helping in some way, is overwhelming. I know that we are on the threshold (or beyond) of a terrible shift in the history of the world. Many things will never be the same again after September 11, 2001. Not just for the thousands and thousands of people directly affected by these horrendous acts of terrorism, but probably for all of us. We will find ourselves feeling differently about dozens of things, including probably space exploration, unfortunately.
It’s horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point. The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are. And the knowledge that everything will be different than when we launched by the time we land is a little disconcerting. I have confidence in our country and in our leadership that we will do everything possible to better defend her and our families, and to bring justice for what has been done. I have confidence that the good people at NASA will do everything necessary to continue our mission safely and return us safely at the right time. And I miss all of you very much. I can’t be there with you in person, and we have a long way to go to complete our mission, but be certain that my heart is with you, and know you are in my prayers.
-Astronaut Frank Culbertson Letter from September 11, 2001