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Thursday, January 28, 2016

30 Years Ago Today - Space Shuttle Challenger

Challenger Lifting Off

Thirty years ago today. A lifetime ago. I was in the 8th grade. I remember being so excited. My science teacher had applied and made it through a lot of the selection process before finally being eliminated and Christa McAuliffe was selected to be the first teacher in space. It was an ambitious goal to say the least. Sending a civilian to space.

Besides the connection of my teacher having tried to be THE ONE, I already loved the space program. I watched whenever there was coverage on television so I had see footage of launches before and knew what to expect, but it was still so exciting everytime. I still watch when I can and it is still just as exciting to me. I was incredibly excited that we were going to get to watch at school.  Most of the kids around me were glad to be getting out of morning classes, but they didn't understand my excitement over why. We were gathered in the gym and they brought in in a couple of the "media carts" with the televisions on them. I positioned my self right in front of one. I was not going to miss it! 

All the fanfare of the countdown and systems checks crackling over the speakers seemed to drag on forever and the excitement built up. As the countdown clock tick closer and closer to lift off, the chatter of my classmates became muted and then silent. I think there were probably a great many of them that had never paid much attention to the space program. I don't remember hearing anyone talking as the Shuttle lifted off the launch pad. We were in awe as the smoke billowed out and the huge vessel was propelled upwards. For a moment, it was the most glorious sight. I remember the white smoke and the shuttle against a remarkably blue sky. It was perfect.  For a moment.... 

As Challenger rose higher an higher, there was cheering and clapping aound me. I was grinning too. It was all so incredible. Until it wasn't. As soon as the explosion occured, I knew something was wrong. I remember sitting there, hands clasped together, hoping it was not as bad as it looked. My classmates went crazy, cheering and clapping. They thought that was supposed to happen. As we saw the pieces falling from the sky and the white contrails streaming down like slowly unfurling steamers, the cheering stopped and silence covered the room. I was crying. Someone, I don't remember who, asked me why I was crying and I told them the astronauts were dead. It took awhile for many of them to realize they had just watched seven people die. I don't even remember the rest of the school day. I remeber the somber, sad feeling that hung over everything. 
The images of that day are forever frozen in my mind, even after all these years. I know the astronauts knew they were flying into history with that mission, but they ended up doing so for the most horrible reasons. There was so much hope. Seven astronauts walked out waving, smiling and full of hope. We were left with the memories and moments frozen in time.

Never Forgotten. Rest in peace, crew of the space shuttle Challenger: Ellison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judith Resnik.

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