I can remember, like it was yesterday. We had just got to class, 8th grade Social Studies. It was a big day, we did not often get to watch TV. And for me, it was something extra special. See, I was the kid in class that always wanted to be an astronout. Spaceflight and aviation were two things that amazed me. To the point where (you can ask my siblings about this) we practiced entire missions in the garage, folding chairs and cardboard boxes with the flight controls taped on them - carefully cut out of my prized, “Space Shuttle Operators Manual”. Big day indeed, a civillian teacher going to orbit. I digress.
Watching liftoff, we all cheered and I watched in wonder, thinking what it was like to be on the orbiter - on the flight deck. Remember the roll program, remember to confirm the throttle up of the SSMEs after passing the high point of dynamic load on the shuttle. And then, it was all over. Silence. “Clearly there has been a major malfunction.”
What happened next, to this day I applaud my teacher. Instead of turning the television off, she kept it on. I don’t know exactly why. I guess she was interested in learning more. I certainly was. And I remember I couldn’t really concentrate on other studies that day. Thinking of the Challenger 7. And the horror in the faces of the families as they watched their loved ones. Heavy.
Later that evening, my parents turned on the TV and we all sat watching President Reagan’s address to the Nation. And I have to say, it too has stuck with me for many years. Yes, he was an actor…but there was somthing about that address, helping to heal, talking to me, that student. That exploration was something that was not for the faint of heart.
A year later, my family took a vacation to Washington D.C., and I had one request. To pay my respects to the Challenger astronauts. We found the memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. It brought the disaster full circle. Still saddend I thought again about exploration and risk. And how without those who are willing to pay the ultimate price - human kind would never make the giant leaps.