We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.
— President Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster
Webmaster’s note: This is an off topic post
There was all kinds of hype prior to the Space Shuttle Challenger going up that January. There was build up -big build up. This wasn’t a typical space flight. A civilian teacher named Christa McAuliffe had joined the group. She had planned to teach a lesson from space.
In my second grade kid-world this was a big deal. Usually we didn’t get to watch TV unless it was something special. The activities that were to be held on the Challenger more than qualified. Not only would there be a lesson from space, but they would also be broadcasting a tour of the ship from up there. Personally, I was excited about watching the tour.
Our teacher had cautioned us that the transmission might not be able to come through because of the weather or whatever reason. We didn’t believe that. That was typical grown-up prudence that was best to be ignored.
To some degree, in a school back then you could still be closed off from the rest of the world for at least six hours. It was not a TV/Internet in every classroom environment. You could go in the place in the morning and go home in the afternoon and find the world had decided to change without consulting you.
The afternoon of the 28th we had finished up our library class and were engaged in watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory –the Gene Wilder version. For some reason we were allowed to watch it up until 15 minutes before school let out.
Then our teacher returned from whatever mysterious place she had gone to that afternoon. She kind of looked at us and then looked down at her hands. She then said something to the effect that she had to tell us some bad news about the space shuttle.
“We won’t get to see the TV program?” blurted out a boy.
“No,” she paused. “The spaceship exploded.”
The TV was then turned back on to the news where we watched that trailing white cloud. My initial thought then was the same thought I had the morning of September 11 when the news I was watching flipped to the first of the twin towers being hit. What am I looking at? What is this? All I could do was cry. It was, that day, a great national tragedy.
I initially wrote this at the 20 year mark. Now it’s 30 years later. It may sound like an age has passed but one glimpse of Jan. 28 on the calendar along with the iconic- and tragic- photo of the explosion makes it yesterday once more.
While the memory may get packed away with all the other junk life hands down, it’s still there. The same feelings are easily retrievable. The reaction is still the same. Loss is still loss.