For my mother's generation, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For my generation, it was the Space Shuttle. Everyone knows where they were when they found out that the space shuttle had exploded. I know exactly where I was: second floor, West Campus Main Building, typing class, right before lunch. I was a sophomore at Pekin Community High School.
Jason Christensen sat right in front of me in typing class (we were seated alphabetically....and consequently, I spent a large portion of my K-12 career seated in the near vicinity to Jason Christensen!) Jason was a bit of a class clown.....he doesn't remember this (because I mentioned it to him at our 20 year reunion), but he used to make Russian dictator trading cards. There was a stint there in the mid-80s when the Russian rulers were dropping dead nearly every other month. He worked quite hard on these cards, and he would show them to me in typing class....but I digress. Because Jason was a bit of a joke-ster, I didn't believe him when he told me of the disaster. I honestly don't think I believed it until I heard from someone else....probably at lunch.
Remember, the entire US was watching as the first civilian, a teacher, was on board the shuttle. Christa McAullife was to teach the first ever lessons to US school children from space. Kids were assembled all over the country to watch the launch. It was a high profile launch...considering it had been delayed so many times...and that added to the magnitude of the disaster.
I remember coming home that day after school and my neighbor, Krystal, was sobbing. I turned on the TV and watched it again and again and again. Later that night President Reagan spoke to the nation. I'm not sure why, but I remember that.
I was born after the first American walked on the moon (but *just* after). I grew up with United States superiority in the space race...which was only amplified by the Cold War and our desire to do everything better than the Russians.
I remember on February 1, 2003 that I called my old friend Melissa when the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster was eerily close to the anniversary of the Challenger. For what ever reason, this disaster didn't seem to be nearly as traumatic for the American populous. It was like re-living the event for me.
I truly regret that I never saw a shuttle launch. I really do. I'm deeply enamoured by space, the final frontier. I did a report in third grade on Robert Goddard. Don't know who he is? Look him up. I cry every time I watch the movies: Apollo 13 and October Sky. It's a deeply emotional thing for me for some reason....probably in part because the Challenger disaster was such a deeply emotional event.
I'm hopeful that we don't abandon innovation in space exploration. Life is so complex, and we have limited resources and so many human problems to manage. However, since the beginning of time, it's always been all about space. Whether you believe in the Big Bang Theory, Evolution of something in-between....matter...from space...organized to create this really awesome planet that we know reside upon. Some of the greatest challenges and seemingly impossible feats have generated unbelievable outcomes and progress in science and industry. As we are in the twilight of the space shuttle program, I hope....deeply....that we are looking for the next big thing in space exploration. I hope that 25 years from now I tell my grand kids about that day in 1986 as one that was an important step in the progressional development of aerospace technology...not the beginning of the end of it.
A Fifth Grader and a Second Grader
1 year ago