28 January 2016

Recalling Challenger

Have 30 years really passed since the Challenger space shuttle exploded?  That time period represents a generation.  I can see that sad Tuesday in my head quite well even now.  I was 15 years old at the time.  My 10th-grade English teacher had wheeled a television into our classroom so that we could watch the launch.  Though shuttle missions had become less of an event since Columbia flew its maiden voyage in 1981, and Challenger was on its 10th mission on that dreadful day in 1986, the Challenger lift off we watched 30 years ago was special because of crew member Christa McAuliffe.  She was to be the first school teacher in space, and my English teacher was giddy with anticipation just before the launch.  It's why we watched -- to see a "regular person" make it into space.

Everyone has seen the awful explosion just 73 seconds after take-off.  I will never forget my English teacher crying after it happened.  I will never forget the feeling that what I had seen was not real.  It took awhile for my 15-year-old mind to realize that I had watched seven people die.  For my parents, "Where were you when JFK was shot?" was a common question.  For people my age, "Where were you when Challenger exploded?" has been a common question.  Other events like 9/11 have followed the "when" in the question.  I remember 28 January 1986 as being one year to the day since We Are The World was recorded.  I remember that Tuesday as being just two days after the Chicago Bears made a strong case in Super Bowl XX for the best football team of all time.  Not long afterwards, I remember seeing Richard Feynman put an O-ring in cold water to demonstrate that the material comprising the O-rings was not suitable for the cold weather of the January launch.  Richard Feynman became a superstar in my 15-year-old nerdy head.

I had to look up the other names of the Challenger crew members because besides McAuliffe, I remembered only Ronald McNair.  He had a PhD in physics from MIT and a black belt in karate.  I have read some of his work on karate physics.  He seemed like a cool guy when I was 15, and even more so now.  The other crew members were Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Gregory Jarvis.  I am glad to look up the names today because remembering those who sacrificed their lives for the advancement of science is important.

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