Friday, January 28, 2011

Volume 6, Number 3: Challenger, 25 Years Later

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy.

Obviously, I will never forget that day. For many in my generation, it marked "the end of the innocence," just as the 1963 Kennedy assassination did for the Baby Boomers and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing did for Generation Y. I was in eighth grade at the time. I didn't actually see it live--I was having my lunch in the cafeteria at my middle school, and to the best of my knowledge, that school didn't have a cable TV connection. And CNN was the only network carrying live coverage of the launch.

The first class after lunch--5th hour--was American History with Mr. Sutherland. Another student in that class said to me, "Did you hear that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up?" I took it as a sick hoax and quipped back to him in a sarcastic tone of voice, "Oh, whoa, (Libyan dictator Muammar) Khadafy must have sabotaged the launch pad." Basically, I felt insulted--he didn't know this, but I secretly dreamed about living on a space station--and that Khadafy thing was my way of insulting him back.

Over the course of that hour, the news spread around the school, but in retrospect, it was obviously not in as organized a fashion as I would have liked--I didn't know the story was true until well over an hour after the disaster. When 6th hour--Science with Mr. Van Horn--rolled around, I still didn't believe what I was hearing until Mr. Van Horn set me straight. We spent the last two hours of the day in silence, sitting at our desks and doing nothing except reflect on what had happened and contemplate the fates of the men and women that President Reagan called heroes that "broke the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God." I remember as I headed home, I hoped that the crew, which included teacher Christa McAuliffe, survived the explosion.

A side note: As it happened, a film called SpaceCamp was being made in which a bunch of kids and their instructor are accidentally launched into space aboard a space shuttle. Even after the Challenger tragedy, I was still interested in seeing that movie. I confess that I once dreamed of living in space, on a space station where everything was within walking distance--food, entertainment, friends, everything in a self-contained community. (A number of years later, I finally did see SpaceCamp on the SciFi Channel. I liked the story, I liked most of the human characters, but that damn robot ruined it for me. You're going to have me suspend my belief so much that I would buy into a sentient robot existing in the 1980s, much less one that would put the interests of one kid ahead of everyone else? A computer malfunction would have made more sense--heck, even an error on the part of one of the kids could have been somewhat believable.)

Note: For a related blog entry I made about CNN's news coverage of the launch and the tragedy that ensued, and how that tragedy affected the world of TV news reporting, go here.

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