"Icarus Rising" is part of the Dataman Space Trilogy,
honoring the astronauts of Challenger, Columbia and Apollo 1.
This site features the song "Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel" by Kansas;
the audio file is encoded in MP3 format and requires an MP3-compatible browser.
Use the control bar below to listen to the song.
Online since January 28th, 1999

Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L
"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger
honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives.
We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning,
as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye,
and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.'"
President Ronald Reagan
January 28th, 1986

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"The Flight of Icarus"
by Sally Benson
(Childcraft, 1968 edition, vol.2, pp. 276-279)

Once long ago in Greece there lived a famous mechanic named Daedalus.  While he was visiting Crete, King Minos, the ruler of the island, became angry with him, and ordered him shut up in a high tower that faced the lonely sea.  In time, with the help of his young son, Icarus, Daedalus managed to escape from the tower, only to find himself a prisoner on the island.  Several times he tried by bribery to stow away on one of the vessels sailing from Crete, but King Minos kept strict watch over them and no ships were allowed to sail without being carefully searched.

Daedalus was an ingenious artist and was not discouraged by his failures.  "Minos may control the land and sea," he said, "but he does not control the air.  I will try that way."

He called his son Icarus to him and told the boy to gather up all the feathers he could find on the rocky shore.  As thousands of gulls soared over the island, Icarus soon collected a huge pile of feathers.  Daedalus then melted some wax and made a skeleton in the shape of a bird's wing.  The smallest feathers he pressed into the soft wax, and the large ones he tied on with thread.  Icarus played about on the beach happily while his father worked, chasing the feathers that blew away in the strong wind that swept the island.  And sometimes he took bits of wax and worked it into strange shapes with his fingers.

It was fun making the wings.  The sun shone on the bright feathers; the breezes ruffled them.  When they were finished, Daedalus fastened them to his shoulders and found himself lifted upwards, where he hung poised in the air.  Filled with excitement, he made another pair for his son.  They were smaller than his own, but strong and beautiful.

Finally, one clear, wind-swept morning, the wings were finished, and Daedalus fastened them to Icarus's shoulders and taught him how to fly.  He bade him watch the movements of the birds, how they soared and glided overhead.  He pointed out the slow, graceful sweep of their wings as they beat the air steadily, without fluttering.  Soon Icarus was sure that he, too, could fly, and, raising his arms up and down, skirted over the white sand and even out over the waves, letting his feet touch the snowy foam as the water thundered and broke over the sharp rocks.

Daedalus watched him proudly but with misgivings.  He called Icarus to his side, and putting his arm around the boy's shoulders, said, "Icarus, my son, we are about to make our flight.  No human being has ever traveled through the air before, and I want you to listen carefully to my instructions.  Keep at a moderate height, for if you fly too low the fog and spray will clog your wings, and if you fly too high the heat will melt the wax that holds them together.  Keep near me and you will be safe."

He kissed Icarus and fastened the wings more securely to his son's shoulders.  Icarus, standing in the bright sun, the shining wings drooping gracefully from his shoulders, his golden hair wet with spray and his eyes bright and dark with excitement, looked like a lovely bird.  Daedalus's eyes filled with tears and, turning away, he soared into the sky and called to Icarus to follow.  From time to time, he looked back to see that the boy was safe and to note how he managed his wings in flight.  As they flew across the land to test their prowess before setting out across the dark wild sea, ploughmen below stopped their work and shepherds gazed in wonder, thinking Daedalus and Icarus were gods.

Father and son flew over Samos and Delos which lay to their left, and Lebinthus, which lay on their right.  Icarus, beating his wings in joy, felt the thrill of the cool wind on his face and the clear air above and below him.  He flew higher and higher up into the blue sky until he reached the clouds.  His father saw him and called out in alarm.  He tried to follow him, but he was heavier and his wings would not carry him.

Up and up Icarus soared, through the soft, moist clouds and out again toward the glorious sun.  He was bewitched by a sense of freedom and beat his wings frantically, so that they would carry him higher and higher to heaven itself.  The blazing sun beat down on the wings and softened the wax.  Small feathers fell from the wings and floated softly down, warning Icarus to stay his flight and glide to earth.  But the enchanted boy did not notice them until the sun became so hot that the largest feathers dropped off and he began to fall.  Frantically he fluttered his arms, but no feathers remained to hold the air.  He cried out to his father, but his voice was submerged in the blue waters of the sea, which has forever after been called by his name.

Daedalus, crazed by anxiety, called back to him, "Icarus! Icarus, my son, where are you?"  At last he saw the feathers floating from the sky and soon his son plunged through the clouds into the sea.  Daedalus hurried to save him, but it was too late.  He gathered the boy in his arms and flew to land, the tips of his wings dragging in the water from the double burden they bore.  Weeping bitterly, he buried his small son and called the land Icaria in his memory.

Then, with a flutter of wings, he once more took to the air, but the joy of his flight was gone and his victory over the air was bitter to him.  He arrived safely in Sicily, where he built a temple to Apollo and hung up his wings as an offering to the god of the sun.

A Personal Reflection

It's only a myth... yet who among us hasn't dreamed of soaring free like a bird through the sky?  Who hasn't wished, if only for a moment, to shatter the very shackles of gravity itself?  In a flight of fancy we strap on our own wings and join Icarus on his virgin flight as we imagine what must have raced through his mind... what sights and sounds must have greeted his eyes and ears... what feelings must have washed over him in his ecstasy...

The exhilaration of soaring through the clouds... the interplay of light and shadow on the land and sea below... the rush of the wind in his ears... the satisfying beat of his wings upon the air... the cool mist of the clouds in his hair and on his skin... the heat of the sun upon his back as he rose higher, ever higher...

...the curious sight of ... feathers ... drifting free beneath him... the odd sensation of falling... the bewildered beating of wings that no longer held him aloft... the uncontrollable tumbling... the shock of realization that something had gone horribly wrong... the desperate cries for help to his father... the terrifying plunge into the unforgiving depths of the ocean below...

...It's only a myth...

...yet we imagine what must have raced through his mind... what anguished prayers must have escaped his lips before his fragile body slammed into the surface of the sea... and then...

And then mythology and reality collide as we realize with a start that we've heard this story before... read it before... seen it before...

...unfolding relentlessly before our confused, blinking eyes... exploding into our consciousness from out of the clear blue sky... searing itself into our stunned, unbelieving minds even as we desperately try to wish it away... to turn back the clock... to undo what cannot be undone.

The best and brightest of who we are, embracing and transcending race, creed, nationality, and gender... the embodiment of all that we would hope to offer of ourselves to our world, to our children, to our posterity... all our hopes, our dreams, our aspirations... our illusions... crumble to ruin and wreckage before us, and the fall of Icarus is transformed from a nearly-forgotten relic of Western civilization's antiquity into the icon of the defining event of an entire generation's cultural memory; for Icarus -- young, daring, joyful Icarus -- was merely the first ... challenger ... of the heavens.

January 28th, 1986  11:38 a.m.

"T-minus 10...9...8...7...6...we have main engine start...4...3...2...1...
and liftoff, liftoff of the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission
and it has cleared the tower."

"Houston, Challenger roll program."
"Roger roll, Challenger."

Early in the morning sunlight
Soaring on the wings of dawn
Here I'll live and die with my wings in the sky
And I won't come down no more

"Good roll program confirmed. Challenger now heading downrange...
Engines beginning throttling down now, at ninety-four percent;
normal throttle for most of the flight, a hundred-and-four percent...
We'll throttle down to sixty-five percent shortly... 

Higher than the birds I'm flying
Crimson skies of ice and fire
Borne on Wings of Steel, I have so much to feel
And I won't come down no more

"...Engines at sixty-five percent.  Three engines running normally.
Three good fuel cells.  Three good APUs...
Velocity twenty-two-hundred-fifty-seven feet per second.
Altitude 4.3 nautical miles.  Downrange distance three nautical miles... 


"Engines throttling up; three engines
now at a hundred-and-four percent."
"Challenger, go at throttle up."

"Roger, go at throttle up..."

"One minute fifteen seconds.  Velocity twenty-nine-hundred feet per second.
Altitude nine nautical miles.  Downrange distance seven nautical miles...


Sail on, sail on...
I will rise each day
to meet the dawn
So high, so high...
I've climbed
the mountains
of the sky
Without my wings,
you know I'd surely die
I found my freedom
flying high
I've climbed
the mountains
of the sky...


"...Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation..."
"...Obviously a major malfunction..."
"...We have no downlink..."
"...We have a report
from the Flight Dynamics Officer
that the vehicle has exploded..."
"Flight Director confirms that..."


"...We are looking at checking with the recovery forces
to see what can be done at this point..."

Seven Ordinary People...

Francis Scobee

Michael Smith

Judith Resnik
Mission Specialist

Ellison Onizuka
Mission Specialist

Ronald McNair
Mission Specialist

Gregory Jarvis
Payload Specialist

Christa McAuliffe
Teacher in Space

Seven ordinary people, possessed of extraordinary skill, determination and courage, striving together to forge another link to humanity's future... and paying the ultimate price to attain a goal larger than themselves.

As long as we hold fast to the hope of a better world for ourselves and for those who come after us, then triumph may yet be wrested from the wreckage of disaster.
As long as we hold forth these seven as examples to be emulated, then our children will learn that heroes are born within each of us.
As long as we strive to the same ideals that they exemplified, then these honored dead will live on in our hearts and minds.


As long as we remember...

The Mission Continues...

Phoenix by Mike Vincent.  Used with permission.


"When the Space Shuttle Finally Flies" -- National Geographic, March 1981

CNN 2011: 25th Anniversary
ABC News: Remembering Challenger
FOX News: Concord Still Mourns
MSNBC: Challenger Remembered in Pictures
NPR: Interview with Ron McNair's Brother
Space.com: Human Spaceflight

CBS News: NASA's Darkest Day
NPR 2006: Reporting a Disaster's Cold, Hard Facts
Space.com: Remembering Challenger

The Day the Earth Stood Still: The Complete Video of Challenger's Final Flight
Confusion and Uncertainty: The Immediate Reaction of Those in the Viewing Stands
The Blink of an Eye: NASA Photos of the Challenger Disaster
Early in the Morning Sunlight: What I See and Hear in the Kansas Song "Icarus"*
Distant Vision: Amateur Backyard Photos of the Challenger Disaster
Destiny Fulfilled: The Challenger Learning Centers
Annual Challenger Memorial Postings to the Kansas and Kerry Livgren Mailing Lists
"It's Good to Remember" -- Fifteenth Anniversary Reflections
"Exactly What Happened...": A Summary of the Events of the Challenger Disaster
Seven Myths About the Challenger
My Son Jeff's Story of the Challenger
"Etched Forever": An Account of Challenger's Final Hours
Challenger Timeline from Spaceflight Now
NASA History Office: STS-51L
Kennedy Space Center Challenger and Crew Images
"The Ride" -- A Song of Tribute to the Challenger 7 by Jimmie Evans III
"Requiem for Seven" -- A Memorial in Song by John P.M. Dillon
"Final Flight" -- A Tribute by Pete Jorgensen
Synchronicity: Similarities Between the Titanic and Challenger Disasters
President Reagan's Address to the Nation
"Fiery End to the Teacher's Mission" - Time Magazine, 75th Anniversary Issue
"The Vehicle Has Exploded" -- A Poem by Donna Moutier
The Alleged Post-Breakup "Transcript"
CNN: Challenger Widow "Rejuvenated with Space Exploration"
CNN: Fallen Challenger, Apollo Astronauts remembered
CNN: Fifteen Years After Challenger, NASA Innocualtes Against "Go-Fever"
CNN Downlinks: January 28, 2000
"We Forgive You, Christa McAuliffe" -- An Essay by Gary L. Wolfstone
"High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. (1922-1941)
QuickTime Audio file of Challenger's final flight
"Here Icarus Fell" by Jacopo Sannazaro (1458-1530)
"The Challengers" -- A Poem by Allen P. Martin
A Personal Reflection by Mark A. Durstewitz
The Miami Herald Sunday Magazine -- Obviously, A Major Malfunction
Federation of American Scientists -- 51-L: The Challenger Accident

*Contains video requring the DivX codec available here.


Images of Daedalus and Icarus were gleaned from various mythology sites on the Internet.
Challenger and related images are from the Johnson Space Center web site
and various Challenger memorial sites across the Internet.
"Child at Play" photo by Orlin Wagner.

"Weeping Eagle" cartoon by Doug Marlette of the Charlotte Observer, January 28th, 1986;
"Shuttle Constellation" cartoon by Jack Ohman of The Oregonian, January 28th, 1986.

"Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel" by Kansas
Lyrics and music by Kerry Livgren
Drums, Moog drum and assorted percussion by Phil Ehart
Bass Guitar by Dave Hope
Lead and rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, piano, clavinet, Moog and ARP synthesizers by Kerry Livgren
Violin and vocals by Robby Steinhardt
Organ, piano, clavinet, Moog synthesizer, congas and vocals by Steve Walsh
Lead and rhythm guitar by Rich Williams

"Icarus - Borne on Wings of Steel" first appeared on Kansas' 1975 album
on Kirshner Records.

Click the above image for more information about this album.

Site concept and design by
Michael E. Brooks, M.Div., Th.M.

Former NASA flight dynamics officer Roger Balettie has done me the honor of posting the text
of "Icarus Rising" with his own graphic work at
Icarus Rising -- A Tribute to the Challenger Crew of STS-51L.

Special thanks go to Simon Atkinson for his generous permission to use his amazingly realistic
painting "Challenger, go at throttle up" as part of this site.  More examples of Simon's expertise
may be found at Simon Atkinson Creative Arts.

Heartfelt thanks also go to Albert Khalis Pride for his labor of love in tracking down the lyrics
to the Commodores' 1980 song "Heroes."

Extra special thanks go to Diana Whay and Roger Balettie for inspiring and encouraging me
in late 1998 to begin the transformation of "Icarus Rising" from a simple e-mail memorial
into this Web site.

And finally, unfathomable thanks go to the brave men and women
of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L.


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NASA Ribbon image by Clay Bennett of The Christian Science Monitor.

(Disclaimer: This site has no official connection with or endorsement by NASA.)