Remembering the Challeger
On this day in 1986, NASA suffered a devastating loss. Not the first loss, by any means, but one that would become an albatross around NASA's neck for years to come and halt all future launches for three years. Maybe it was because there had been so much publicity before launch that this tragedy captured the nation. Early in 1985, to boost the public's interest in space, our then president, Ronald Reagan, launched the Teacher in Space Program. Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire, won the opportunity to be NASA's first "Teacher in Space." One winner; 10462 losers. As the winner, she was to travel with the crew of the space shuttle, deliver a lesson from space, return to Earth and take her place in history as the first civilian in space. A Cinderella story of a sort, only no prince at the end. No HEA. Instead a watery grave for McAuliffe and an ending to a dream that cut deep into the heart of humanity leaving an aching scar and humbling the soul of a nation which had become so blase about manned space flights and the risk that astronauts take every time there is a lift off.
Seven lives were lost that day as cable network streamed the moment live into high school classrooms across the nation. 73 seconds into the 10th shuttle flight, disaster struck, and the shuttle broke apart. Thousands of students saw it happen. Thousands of students and one would assume, 10,642 people who were suddenly grateful that they had not been chosen. It was an experience that changed lives.
In the aftermath, one chilling fact surfaced. Most people believed, after seeing the replay on television a gazillion times, that the people on board died instantly when the Challenger exploded; however, evidence recovered suggests that there was not quote unquote explosion and the crew was still alive, although hopefully not conscious, when the capsule hit the ocean.
Did McAuliffe know the risks? Absolutely. Did she believe that her trip into space would end as is did? That would be a resounding, NO! Do either of these question matter, now thirty one years after the fact? Maybe. Our job now is to keep the spirit of these seven brave people alive. We should be willing to pave the way for others, regardless of the risk to ourselves. If you look back through history, the people who have left their mark on the world are those who did just that.
Are you curious about the teachers who didn't win a seat on the Challenger? Here is a link that will catch you up on the TTeachers in Space Project.