I remember the afternoon I heard of the Challenger tragedy as if it were yesterday.
That shuttle launch was advertised quite a bit more than usual because Christa McAuliffe was taking the ride. She was the first average citizen and the first school teacher to get the OK to go into space. This would be a very special and significant mission.
At the time, I lived in Galena Park, Texas, only a few miles from Johnson Space Center. As a student, I had made the trip to the Space Center quite a few times and always enjoyed the thrill and very clear sense of history, exploration, adventure and achievement of the American spirit as we took in all of the sights.
But on that fated day, January 28, 1986, I remember finishing my lunch in the high school cafeteria where some students were giving various reports of an explosion and the shuttle. But it wasn’t until I finished lunch and entered the library that it really sunk in. The television was on and the 3 major news networks were playing the video of the launch, the 73 second flight and then the explosion over the Atlantic off the Florida coast.
An almost tangible cloud hung over the school for the rest of the day. Upon arriving home, we watched Tom Brokaw continue to break the news of the explosion. We learned more about those who were on that flight and how special they all were.
President Ronald Reagan would soon make his speech to the nation in our time of shock and mourning. I remember parts of his speech vividly, especially much of the last line. He said: “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored 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.'”
Last year, I took my family to the Kennedy Space Center. On a memorial plaque, I saw the engraved faces of those seven men and women who lost their lives that day. Among them were the faces of others who also died while bravely and proudly serving their country and furthering our knowledge of space.
On this day, 25 years later, may we take time to reflect on these men and women on the Challenger that fated day: Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis.
One final note: there was a bit of irony on that trip to Florida’s east coast last year. On the same trip that I was reminded of the Challenger tragedy, I was able to enjoy an early morning shuttle launch with my family from about 25 miles away from the launch site. (The picture doesn’t do it justice. The roar of the engines overhead and the brilliant orange flame that lit up the sky isn’t conveyed adequately in this picture.) It was a reminder that tragedy is not the end. We learn from it, grow strong from it … and keep on going.