Saturday, January 28, 2006

January 28, 1986

Twenty years ago, because I sat in a third-grade classroom and watched the Challenger explode, I'm now sitting here-- in Florida, a former Kennedy Space Center employee, struggling to teach a sometimes-angry contingent of pilots how to write. I want to explain it to them, individually, take their hands and say "We thought it was safe, but all of a sudden it wasn't anymore" because at the time they were embryos, fetuses, toddlers. I can't make them understand.

An attempt.

19 comments:

Jenib said...

In the middle of a mundane day, I am reminded that there are things so much larger and complicated than what we have on our own plates. I did not know or remember that today was the anniversary of the Challenger. When I read your blog, it took me back to a day I remember with clarity. The look on my former teacher's face as I passed him in the halldirectly after the explosion (I had missed seeing it when it happened)-he was a retired Air Force Pilot and was totally devestated-I will never forget his face. He had been so excited about the launch that he had advocated a day off of sorts for all of us to watch the launch school-wide on live TV. The weeks after wondering what happened and watching any piece of news in hopes of trying to make sense of it all. All of the emotions that were evoked by conflicting news reports...

Jenib said...

Why oh why do they not offer spell check for non typing people like me? Or a boot to come flying out of nowhere when I go to publish comments with glaring errors?

DivineDivorcee said...

i remember where i was. i was in 7th grade, in california, and we were all called out of class to the library. We watched the newscasts over and over and over again. no one could tear themselves away from it. i don't remember anything at all of the rest of that day but sitting in the library, surrounded by my classmates, watching the explosion over and over and over.

kelebek }{ said...

I was two years old when that happened, so I obviously don't remember. But I think it could be similiar for me try to explain the morning of 9/11 to bunch of people who were toddlers and fetuses at that time. I remember it clearly, I was a senior in high school and I was in physics class. I think my mom remembers the Challenger, I'll ask her tomorrow.
jenib: I think correct spelling is over-rated, at least for Journalism majors who have copy editors to fix their mistakes. *Ducks out of sight*

Pam said...

I was in third grade when it happened. I remember putting together paper Challenger shuttles. I was excited because we were going to watch Christa McAuliffe teach from space. My class didn't actually watch the launch, but I remember the principal made an announcement over the PA that the space shuttle had exploded and asked everyone to turn the lights out for a "moment of silence." When I think about Challenger, I try not to dwell on the explosion -- it's more clear in my mind the footage of the Challenger Seven walking and waving on their way to the shuttle. That's how I like to remember them.

Anonymous said...

I was in the 5th grade on that day...my English teacher was a large, strong, bearded man who's voice would carry down the hall...he was full of energy and strength. His face would redden with passion for a subject or in anger towards those who misbehaved. A look from him would make you smile or set you straight. We loved his class but feared him too. He wept in front of us that day when he announced the tragedy. I have yet to witness another teacher allow themselves to be so vulnerable and honest about their emotions. Not something you forget.

2xgtld said...

And I was a freshman in college ( wich makes me really old here) but I was coming back from class to my dorm, turned on the tv and watched in total disbelief.

Question- CAN we ever really make anything completely safe? Just driving in our own cars, we are taking a tremendous risk. I'm not downplaying the sorrow of the tragedy- but should we completely stop all exploration until it's completely safe? I have always wondered what the spirits of the astronauts would think....

JHD said...

I was a junior in high school, and I had a free period in the library. I remember they had brought TVs into the library so we could watch the takeoff. I remember sitting with others, being stunned with the pictures we saw.

We learned about them being alive as they hit the water in my Earth Science class, and instead of talking about geology, we had a lesson on space flight and the physics involved and why they probably never felt anything. It was a rough couple of weeks, and we all felt like Challenger was our JFK. "Where were you when..."

Unfortunately, it's not the only one we have. I will never be able to forget where I was when the attempted assassination of Reagan took place, the Challenger, and 9/11. I hope not to add a fourth terrible "Where were you when..." to my memories.

Abs said...

I was in the third grade also and the day had started out promising--we had a substitute teacher and therefore a temporary reprieve from the heavy-handed, buck-toothed, bespectaled woman who tried in vain to keep us under control. Looking back over the years, I have often wondered why our principal felt compelled to troop us off to the library in order to watch people lose their lives over and over again. Apparently, there was a nation full of principals who weren't thinking clearly that day.

amy lou the reader said...

I was just three, so I don't remember the day in question. But I do remember learning about it.

kelebek has it right: trying to explain the Challenger to children born in the 80s will be like trying to explain 9/11 to my children. You can't capture how it felt to be there, watching history unfold before your eyes.

2xgtld is also right. I was at a birthday party Saturday night, and not more than a half-mile from my friend's apartment an 18-year-old high school boy was killed by a drunk driver while riding home with some friends. Life is a risk. Proceed with caution, but don't let fear stop you.

Rick said...

I remember that day. I was in Germany and had just moved into military housing where I was getting everything ready for my family to join me. The television was on and couldn't believe it at first. It's still hard to believe that 7 lives were sacrificed for expediency.

I guess I'm showing my age by admitting that I remember the JFK assassination, the Apollo 1 fire, Challenger, Columbia, and 9/11.

I was at the Ramstein air show in Germany when that jet crashed into the crowd. My family and I were only about 400 yards from the crash. We were forturnate to not be among the injured. Witnessing a disaster first hand burns it into your psyche forever.

Anonymous said...

To Amy Lou and 2xgtld:
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho' We are not now that strength which in the old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; One equal-temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

A.T.

cravenmorehead said...

Why do we waste lives and money on space travel when people are dying of starvation?

Red Pill Junkie said...

They will never understand it MB, they will never EVER be able to grasp the notion that all of the sudden the whole world was put on hold because of this terrible tragedy, this regrettable and PREVENTABLE accident that demanded the lives of these men and woman.

They won't ever get it. Keep trying though.

PS: I was 12 when it happened so I remember it quite well. I guess when I saw that giant fire ball covering on the tv I realized this: "Now I won't see a man setting foot on Mars until I'm old". It was a sad thought.

SusannahS said...

I was in 5th grade that day. My baby brother was 10 days old...he recently celebrated his 20th birthday.
I can remember our school principal walking into our classroom and telling us that the space shuttle had exploded. I remember being surprised...I wasn't even aware that a launch was scheduled that day...We all gathered in the 6th grade classroom and watched the news coverage over and over and over again.
And then...the Challenger jokes began. You know the ones... We were all young. We didn't know how to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude so we had to make it funny. Something that wasn't so scary. Something that wasn't real.
And the worst thing is that I still can't tell you the seven names.

Mike Marchand said...

cravenmorehead: Here's why.

bethany_okc@yahoo.com said...

I'm glad that we're still allowed to talk about that day, that there is a forum to express the shock and horror. I was only 8 and in second grade, but we had been studying for weeks about the Challenger beforehand, because we wanted to know all about Christa McAulife, the teacher who was going into space. In fact, it was in the weeks before the mission was to launch that I decided I wanted to teach, inspired by the thought of this schoolteacher choosing to do something so possibly dangerous in an effort to learn for herself, as well as teach more students. The class was all sounds of "ooohs" and "aaahs" as the Challenger rockets lifted the shuttle from the ground and into the sky. But when the explosion occurred, there was only silence. My second-grade teacher was so shocked that she actually knocked the TV to the ground, shattering the glass in her haste to turn off the set. She tried to assure us that it was only make-believe, that the teacher and the astronauts aboard were safe, but we all knew. No matter our age, we knew what we had seen and how that was our first experience with death. Years later I visited the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum, which has a portion of the Challenger shuttle displayed, and I cried like the 8-year old girl I used to be, cried for my heroes again, like it had just happened.

MB said...

Many thanks to all of you for sharing your memories. This is what writing is all about.

Michelle Miles said...

I was in junior high when it happened. I remember going to 5th period and the TV being on and watching it happen. I remember the stunned silence of everyone in school that day. It's hard to believe it's been 20 years.

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