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Remembering the Challenger

Crew of the Challenger (image: NASA)

Crew of the Challenger (image: NASA)

Thirty years ago this morning I was sitting in my tiny desk, fidgeting while waiting for the culmination of a three-week study unit on space and NASA. It was a special treat for us to get to watch something on television in school, and that day we were watching the shuttle take off live. I remember my teacher, Miss Cathy, had to hush us twice before the lift off began. I remember clapping and cheering as the shuttle raised up off the platform on a cushion of fire and steam, and then there was a deafening silence.

What happened that day is one of those moments that gets engraved on the brain and the heart and never really goes away. That morning, just moments after liftoff, the shuttle Challenger suffered a catastrophic failure and all aboard were lost. Francis (Dick) R. Scobee, Commander. Michael J. Smith, Pilot. Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist. Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist. Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist. Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist. Christa McAuliff, Payload Specialist.

Looking back, I’m certain most of my fellow first graders didn’t fully comprehend what we had just watched or why our teacher was telling us we could go home. I think I was in shock more than anything, but I remember holding my best friend’s hand and thinking about those astronauts. Later that night I was allowed to stay up for a rare television watching moment to see President Reagan’s speech which is worth watching now, if you didn’t then.

What child doesn’t, for a moment, dream of being an astronaut, of going to space and looking back at this world of ours from so far away, of touching the face of the moon and the light of millions of stars. After watching the Challenger, I can’t remember ever wanting to be an astronaut in real life again (I just wanted to write about them), but I always loved the idea of space, of colonizing it, exploring it. I was glad that NASA didn’t end the Space Program.

Christa McAuliff’s presence on the shuttle was talked about everywhere leading up to the launch as she was a teacher, the first civilian to go to space, and an inspiration to women everywhere, from the little girls watching in their classrooms, their teachers, their mothers, their sisters and everyone in between. The Teacher in Space program was actually supposed to encourage interest in the space program and show how reliable space travel could be. The Teacher in Space program was cancelled in 1990 and replaced by the Educator Astronaut Program, the difference being that participants had to be full time astronauts.

I have had a hard time writing even this much without getting emotional even after thirty years. Like the assassination of JFK and 9/11, it’s a moment that you will never forget where you were when it happened.

I will not embed the video of the Challenger but I will put a link: HERE in case you want to see it for yourself but it is a horrible, graphic video.


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