At 6 years old, Chad Keller already knew he wanted to be an astronaut, but his vision was not sharp enough to pass the military requirements to become a fighter pilot.
Instead, never losing sight of his dream, Keller earned a degree in aerospace engineering, hoping to one day make it to space.
On September 11, 2001, the 29-year-old US Department of Defense and Office of National Reconnaissance satellite propulsion specialist was on his way home to California after attending a series of launch meetings at the Pentagon. .
At 9:37 am, the plane he was traveling on, American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon.
Keller’s life ended that day, but thanks to the efforts of NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, nearly 20 years later, his space mission dreams finally came true.
Cassidy, a former Navy SEAL platoon commander, spent two tours of the Middle East after 9/11. He began training to become an astronaut in 2004 at the end of his second deployment.
Highlights of Cassidy’s career at NASA include crew aboard the shuttle Endeavor in 2009, two tours of the International Space Station and 10 spacewalks.
According to Cassidy, NASA allows astronauts to carry a selection of small personal mementos, such as photos, patches or pins, along with them on their missions. For her first two space outings, Cassidy focused on her family memories, but for her final mission in 2020, she wanted to share the unique and meaningful opportunity with someone who would truly appreciate it.
After reading about Chad Keller’s lifelong passion for space travel at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City, Cassidy knew she had found a kindred spirit.
Cassidy approached Keller’s father Richard with a proposal: He was soon heading into space and wondering if Chad would like to join him. Richard’s response was a resounding “Yes!”
In April 2020, when Cassidy and the rest of his crew took off, pins from Chad’s days at Boeing and the University of Colorado, a schedule of his memorial service, a snapshot of Chad and his wife Lisa, and some of his ashes. they went with him.
To complete the collection, Cassidy also brought in commemorative items from the 9/11 Museum.
Over the course of the mission, with a stunning backdrop of Earth behind them, Cassidy photographed every item in her inventory on the dome of the space station’s observatory.
In addition to documenting moments in history, he also sent messages of hope to the people of the planet below.
“With every item I take out, I always pause for a second to think a little bit about the history of that particular item,” Cassidy said. CNN. “It is something special to think about the history and the path, the journey of that object from the hands I was in to my hands to this window.”
In the 20 years since Chad Keller’s death, his family had a mission of their own: scattering his ashes in the places that meant the most to him. Thanks to Cassidy, they were finally able to send them to the one place he had always wanted to go: space.
Now retired from NASA, Cassidy currently oversees the construction of the National Medal of Honor Museum and Medal of Honor Leadership Institute in Arlington, Texas, and the Medal of Honor National Monument in Washington, DC.
While Cassidy and the Kellers have yet to meet in person, the bond they forged to make Chad’s dream come true is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of tragedy; one told from a perspective that is both humble and hopeful.
“The world would be a better place if every human being had five minutes to look out the window of the space station,” Cassidy told CNN. “It made me appreciate more all that the Earth has to offer us. Friendships, connections, and shared experiences are so much more meaningful to me now. “
And that’s a takeout that is universal.
“The Cosmos is all that it is, was, or will be,” wrote Carl Sagan. If we can simply remember that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, then whether we are on earth or breaking the bonds of gravity, in the here and now or in part of what came before, we all sail among the stars. .
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