When I was in first grade, my wonderful teacher lived and breathed space. He had us build model rockets, do our math problems about space shuttles and read everything we could about NASA. He was a total space junkie.
One day, he came in to school and ate a candy bar in front of the whole class. He’d gone to Washington, he told us, to be one of ten finalists to become the first teacher in space. They’d given the job to another wonderful teacher, Christa McAuliffe. The Butterfinger he was eating was his consolation prize. He teared up as he explained how dear that dream had been to him.
A year later, our whole school gathered in the assembly hall to watch the Challenger take off. My teacher was there to guide the school as we watched the launch unfold, knowing it could have been him on that shuttle.
The explosion that followed knocked our school hard, just like it did the whole country. I’ve always felt some particular poignancy about the disaster, knowing how much I loved my space-crazy teacher and imagining a little of what Christa McAuliffe’s students must have felt that day.
The Challenger explosion was the iconic tragedy of my childhood, just as JFK’s assassination was for my mother. It’s the moment seared into my mind when I had to confront the reality of death and sudden tragedy on a national scale, sharing grief with everyone I knew, young and old.
I didn’t know Christa McAuliffe or any of the astronauts who died that day. After elementary school I lost all interest in the space program. Yet the tragedy of the Challenger still tugs at my heart 25 years later. I’m not alone. I’ve seen several friends blog about it today, sharing their own memories of this day in history.
Do you remember where you were when the Challenger exploded? What role did the space shuttle tragedy have in your life?