Are you able to recall your first memory in life?
I’ve read studies that most of our earliest memories in life are often the most dramatic ones. It is as if they are worth remembering because they are scenes that often shape our lives in one way or another. One of those scenes for me was the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion. If you are in your mid thirties or older, you will probably remember it. I remember vaguely that beautiful yet tragic morning of January 28th, 1986. Like 9/11, it was hard to escape the images of the shuttle exploding in mid-air.
If you were a student , you were likely in class watching this. If you were an adult, you either saw it on the morning news or the radio as you were driving to work. I don’t remember being in class watching it but I do remember the images on the tv that day and wondering what was real or a cartoon. I was a 7-year-old boy and fascinated with space travel. This was a unique shuttle mission because it was the first involving the NASA Teacher in Space Project, an initiative dreamed up during the Reagan Administration. It was hopeful
My parents would often talk about where they were when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember thinking later in life that perhaps this was one of those moments in history for me to remember for better or worse.
President Reagan’s message captured the moment,
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey, and waved good-bye, and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’
I’ve thought about the Challenger disaster from time to time since then. I was at our Nashville Adventure Science Center y recently and ran across quotes from McAuliffe that brought me back to that day.
Christa McAuliffe was a social studies teacher and one of the seven crew members that perished in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. She seemed to be such an optimist and her heart for teaching was evident. She knew about past tragedies involving the space program and despite the risks, she had this opinion,
Every shuttle mission’s been successful.
She was right. After each mission, something new is learned for better or worse.
My next space shuttle memory was two years later in 1986 when our 4th grade class gathered in our schoolroom to watch Space Shuttle Discovery take off. It was beautiful and sent a loud and clear message: Tragedy and mistakes happen but we must keep moving forward and upward. The greater loss would be if we quit trying. I remember being in awe of watching Discovery take off. It is what brings me to tears at the end of the movie October Sky seeing the rocket lift off.
In 2011 when the last Space Shuttle Atlantis took off, I made sure my girls sat down with me to watch. We recorded it on our DVR and watched it multiple times. Each time it launched, they cheered. I wanted the girls to see what it was like to be always looking up, soaring, and to always tackle the unknown. It’s easier to preach than practice but by attempting to teach them, I have learned that these scenes are all part of life’s process. Challenger was not NASA’s last disaster as Columbia was lost in 2003 and I’d expect things to happen as it is the occasional price of exploration. The space program is in a wilderness now but there are probably several people at NASA who know that this is not the end and will never stop trying. They have Christa McAuliffe to thank as well as the many more who perished.
I’ll leave you with McAuliffe’s words:
Reach for it. Push yourself as far as you can.
Thank you teacher.