Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 28, 1986

Twenty-four years ago, I sat in my sixth grade classroom. We were not in class very long before Mr. McKay wheeled in a TV and we began watching the truly memorable event on the news (This was long before our school had CNN). What we saw were the early moments of a NASA shuttle launch, something we had all grown used to. In fact my first grade teacher had made sure that we watched the first Shuttle take-off. I remembered the white fuel tank from that mission and did not understand the orange of the fuel tank on this one.

Then, as we watched, something around 28 pairs of eyes did not blink as the voices on the screen talked. Finally they said the words I will never forget: "Challenger, go with throttle up." at that moment, the orbiter, now many miles downrange, but still visible on the television screen, disappeared into a strange puffy cloud from which emerged, a half second later, the solid rocket boosters. They continued in oddly stable paths across the sky.

I will never forget that day. I don't remember how long we watched it, but I think we did eventually get on with lessons that day. I never liked Mr. McKay much, I thought he picked on me. I know better now. I am glad he wheeled that big old TV in and let us watch the event. It was something I doubt I will ever forget.

Then, seventeen years later, on a February morning almost to the day, the Space shuttle Columbia fell Earthward. I was living in Northern California at the time, and had I been awake, I may have seen the incoming orbiter as it raced through the atmosphere. Its path was not far from our area. At the time our alarm played the radio to wake us up. The voices brought us from our sleep with the words that everyone would remember this day. I don't know if my Columbia memory will ever have the same clarity that I have for Challenger, but I hope we all take a glance at the sky today to remember all those astronauts who have given their lives today.