Friday, January 28, 2011

25 Years Later: Remembering the Space Shuttle Challenger

It was a beautiful, sunny morning. It was unusually cold that day...well, at least for Florida. But, as I got ready for another day at Howard Bishop Middle School in Gainesville, the sun was shining and the cold seemed to be giving way to another, ordinary pleasant day in the Sunshine State. But it was not an ordinary day. It was January 28, 1986.

At 11:45 am, I sat at lunch with my fellow sixth-graders and we were chatting and eating. No one really discussed the day's shuttle launch, because we had been to see a shuttle launch the previous fall for a field trip. We'd been there, done that - it was no big deal anymore. You know how 13 year olds are.

The assistant principal, who sat on the stage during lunch hour in our cafeteria/auditorium, hushed us all out of the blue. He never did that -- we were allowed a little free reign at lunchtime. He put a portable radio on, and held his microphone up to the speaker. The news was reporting that something terrible had happened at the Cape; the very place we'd gone to watch our space program in action only a few short months previously.

We all ran to look out the building windows. There it was - the fateful plume of smoke in the sky. The evidence that showed us what that what we were hearing on the radio was real, and not just a nightmare.

It was a sad day. For our space program, for our national spirit, for Americans...the whole world. I think we all lost a bit of innocence that day. It was a shocking event, especially in my young life. As a young person, you already have a certain sense of invincibility. And, as a young American especially, you are taught from practically birth that the world is yours to conquer. American exceptionalism, freedom, and indomitable spirit are part of your upbringing. To experience, for the first time, a chink in our national armor, exposed a vulnerability that I don't know if, at 13, I was quite ready for.

I mourned, with the rest of the country, the brave astronauts that we lost that day. We saluted them then, and we still remember today. I hope the 25th anniversary of this tragedy will remind all of us of the spirit of discovery that exists in humankind, and that our exploration of worlds and places beyond Earth will long the memory of the Challenger 7.

"The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honoured 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 the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.' "

President Ronald Reagan

January 28, 1986

1 comment:

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