January 28, 2005

Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth

Michele points out that today is the 19th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. I remember the event fairly well...and honestly, it's one of those things I've tried hard to put out of my mind.

I was 16 years old, living at a boys home in Texas. I took a library elective my sophomore year and that spring semester was able to volunteer as a teacher's aide at the elementary school.

Back then, it was somewhat of a big deal to see the space shuttle launches on T.V. The technology wasn't exactly new, but the idea of routine shuttle missions was interesting to my generation. This particular launch was special because a civilian was among the flight crew.

Her name was Christa McAuliffe. She was a school teacher, chosen to represent the average American. It was exciting because her endeavor meant a connection between us and space. It meant that maybe, just maybe, we'd no longer have to live vicariously through a few elite to discover the wonders of what was out there...

That day, I was working with the second graders, and I had talked the teacher into letting us watch the shuttle launch. There was much excitement among the children as the countdown began...then the launch...then the explosion.

I vividly remember the looks of dismay and confusion on the faces of those little boys as the disaster unfolded. They thought that the explosion was PART OF the launch. Some of them even assumed it was fireworks.

The teacher and I knew better...

There were so many questions that the teacher had to leave the room to compose herself. That left me to explain the facts of life to seven/eight year-old children. I deserved it...after all, it'd been my idea to watch the launch in the first place.

So I told them that there had been an accident and the shuttle didn't make it into space. They were still confused. I couldn't quite get them to grasp that the spacecraft had exploded and that the flight crew might not have survived.

One boy asked why the astronauts' parachutes didn't open.

Another asked if the Russians blew up the shuttle.

I became so frustrated and angry I had to leave the room as well. The principal had heard the news and was walking up as I was leaving. He saw the look on my face and let me leave without saying anything. I don't know if he was able to explain to the boys what had happened. They would come up to me for days afterward and ask more questions.

I also remember that it didn't take long for the shuttle jokes to start. I feel shitty that I had laughed at some of those jokes. I feel shitty that a classroom of boys had to learn about death because of me. But most of all, I feel shitty that our current shuttle program is a joke and personal privilege of endeavor for elite scientists.

Posted by Darth Monkeybone at January 28, 2005 08:36 AM

I will never forget that day it was so clear.
I saw it rising up in the sky here in Tampa and then realised it didnt look right,at that monet a co worker ran out of the Vet clinic, I worked at secreaming, that it had blown up.I was just smoking a cig looking at it stunned ,It was a bad day....A few weeks ago I saw a launch from Jacksonville and it looked awesome.
Cheers from Sunny Tampa

Posted by: Lc NEilV at January 28, 2005 08:53 AM

I guess we all have our own memories of that day. 19 years ago? Couldn't be that long ago... I'm not that old... am I?

I remember the confusion... the anger... the fear...

What I remember the most is the frustration... knowing, in the back of my mind, that they didn't have to die. It could have been prevented.

Posted by: Beth at January 28, 2005 08:56 AM

19 years, it seems like yesterday, I was so angry, their employers were like mine, putting production ahead of safety. That attitude cost a lot of lives in Aerospace as well as with my employer I think of all those lost often.

Posted by: Jack at January 28, 2005 12:58 PM

I saw it happen on television in class too, I was in fourth grade. We were old enoguh to understand what had happened. The teacher turnd it off after teh explosion, wanted us to work on our spelling words. Of coarse we all wanted to know what happened. The other fourth and fifth grade classes were still watching. The principal began going through the classes to talk with all the students. When He got to our classroom he made the teacher turn it back on. "WE learn nothing from tragedy by ignoring it." he said to her protests. She went home early that day and the principle stayed with us. (I never did like that teacher)

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