Thursday, January 27, 2011

In Honor of the Fallen...

On January 28, 1986, I awoke to a severe bout with a bug. A 24-hour bug had been going around the school, and apparently it was my turn to suffer the consequences. Normally, I would have been more than happy to miss school, but this day we were going to have a special treat. Back then there weren't many opportunities to watch television at school. We didn't have a whole lot of them, this was back when teachers were still making us watch those film strips with the narrator, who put you to sleep five minutes after the lights went out.

This day the whole school was going to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger launch. As a kid, the shuttle launches had always fascinated me. I never wanted to be an astronaut mind you, but I lived in the country where you could see every star in the sky, and space was just so fascinating to me. My grandmother gave me a book on constellations, and I would spend hours on the front steps trying to find Orion's belt, the Leo Constellation (I'm a Leo), and the Pleiades which was my favorite.

The Challenger launch was also special, because Dr. Ronald McNair was going up and so was Christa McAuliffe, a teacher. Ronald McNair was only the second African-American to orbit the earth. (Guion Bluford was the first). I thought it was amazing that someone my mom's age was doing such amazing things. Plus, he was a black man (from the south no less) which made me so proud.
I've always wanted to be a teacher, so I thought Christa McAuliffe was the coolest training for the spot to be the first civilian in space. It was going to be so cool to watch the launch with my friends. We had been talking about seeing Mrs. McAuliffe's lessons from space and how neat the lessons were going to be. Alas, I was stuck at home watching by myself.

I remember every detail. My grandmother had pull out sofa in the living room which she had made up for me, so I could watch tv. I watched the coverage as they showed Mrs. McAuliffe's school anxiously awaiting the launch. I watched as they panned the crowd and showed her parents and their excitement. I watched as the countdown began. I watched the liftoff holding my breath...

73 seconds was over. Most of us didn't quite know what was going on. I remember vaguely thinking, "Is that suppose to happen? That can't be right?" I remember the silence in those auditoriums, and Mrs. McAuliffe's parents' stunned looks. Then, it hit you like a ton of bricks. They were gone. All of them. 73 seconds...

Dan Rather shook most of us from that stunned silence. I remember the tears falling, even as I quite couldn't wrap my mind around the fact that this had happened...I don't think I had ever let myself believe that anything bad could happen. I was born 7 years after Apollo 1. I had only ever seen successful launches. I was devastated. The nation was devastated. President Reagan was going to deliver his State of the Union Address that night, but found himself instead having to comfort a grieving nation.

That day seems just like yesterday to me, but it happened 25 years ago tomorrow. Twenty-five years have just flown by...

I would like to take a moment to those who gave their lives for the pursuit of space...the quest for knowledge, and made the ultimate sacrifice...

  • Commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee
  • Pilot Michael J. Smith
  • Mission specialists Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka and Judith A. Resnik
  • Payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe, who was to have been the first teacher in space

President Reagan eulogized them by so eloquently stating

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.'

Thank you.

Thank you and may God Bless you. You were true heroes...

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