There are moments that burn themselves into the collective mind due to their poignance, tragedy, or triumphalism. For our parents, Neil Armstrong’s walk amazed them; Kennedy’s assassination shocked them. For many of us, the Challenger explosion was just such a landmark in our development.
Like thousands of other American children, I was watching the Shuttle launch that bright January day, mostly because of the presence of Christine McAuliffe. Never let it be said that the accomplishments of a teacher cannot capture national attention.
I remember quite clearly sitting in a 3rd grade classroom, waiting for the launch, something we were only able to do because of the 2 hour launch delay that happened that morning. I remember being impatient to go to lunch– I wanted the Shuttle to hurry up and lift off. At 10:38 CST, the Challenger lifted off, and elicited a cheer from a room full of kids. At 10:39:37 CST, we watched the Shuttle disintegrate before our eyes.
A stunned silence fell over our little corner of the world. Our teachers were too stunned to move to turn off the coverage. I remember odd things from that morning, like my first observation of CNN. I remember eating lunch in a stunned silence, with hundreds of other students. I remember the ubiquitous 6-10 year old’s games of ‘astronaut’ on the playground were totally absent that afternoon. I remember a silent bus ride and walk home at the end of the day. There wasn’t even a child’s typical antagonistic banter that day. I am fairly certain that our readers remember those stunned, silent times as well. My parents tried to explain it to me, but it was not easy. My mother made dinner while talking to me about the space program and its history.
I tuned in, like so many Americans, to the television address Ronald Reagan gave that night; I remember being grumbly earlier in the week, because the State of the Union was going to pre-empt my normal tv viewing. Reagan’s words are now etched in our national memory, but for a confused 9 year old, it felt like he was talking only to me. In hindsight, the speech is one of the five moments that I can point to that have made me profoundly Conservative.
The Challenger crew consisted of mission commander Francis R. Scobee; pilot Michael J. Smith; mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Judith A. Resnik; and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis., and Christine McAuliffe.
Today, take a moment to remember heroes. Lift your eyes, and look to the heavens; remeber their dedication, and its completeness.