I was in ninth grade, the day the Challenger exploded. I heard the news in the hall, going from one class to the next. Some kid that I thought was kind of a dork pops up and says, “Hey, didja hear about the space shuttle? It blew up.” And he smiled, like it was funny. Or maybe not that it was funny; maybe that was just his goofy 14-year-old-kid way of expressing something along the lines of “Huh. That’s not what was supposed to happen.”

By this time in my high school career, I was well on the way to becoming a music geek and wasn’t nearly as interested in the space program as I had been in my “I’m gonna be an astronaut!” phase four or five years earlier. Therefore, I didn’t know much at all about that particular shuttle mission outside of the publicity because a civilian, a teacher, was going to be on it. What was really weird, though, about that day in my school was that the news didn’t rip through the school; few people were talking about it; none of my classes had teevee’s with the footage. I didn’t see any of the coverage until I got home from school that afternoon, at which point I planted myself in front of CBS.

It seems to me that the Challenger disaster really soured this country on space exploration, or at least it put some punctuation on a souring process that had been going on for a while. There were no goals, no real sense of purpose to the whole thing. We had once built ships to reach the Moon; now we were content to stay in low-Earth orbit. Most news items on teevee relating to shuttle missions were to show the whacky choice of music Houston had chosen for the astronauts’ wake-up call. The shuttle itself was a dull-looking vehicle. The future had arrived, and it was clunky and boring…and then, awfully dangerous as well.

What are we doing in space? I have no idea. That makes me sad. When I was a kid, my conviction was rock solid that I was living in the generation that would walk on other worlds. I didn’t realize that we were basically done walking on other worlds within a year of my birth. Alas.

To wrap this up: I was, as you can probably tell from my personal politics, never a big fan of President Ronald Reagan. But his speech to the nation after the Challenger disaster was masterful.

And then there was Richard Feynman’s tenacity in focusing on the O-ring seals in the booster rockets:

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5 Responses to Challenger

  1. Roger Owen Green says:

    O rings. I remember them well.

  2. Doug says:

    That was one day I won't forget, watching the lift-off and explosion burned in my mind that this is the beginning of the end of the US space effort, I was wrong, but I never thought it had the same zest afterward. I had a snow day from school and shortly after watching it, went out to clear snow from the front of the driveway to help clear my head.

    I hate to say it, I think the commercial efforts in space will be what carries us into the next phase of space travel. And if there is no money to be made from it, it won't be done. Not what Gene Roddenberry envisioned.

  3. Kerry says:

    My experience was completely different, which is weird since I feel like we both might have been in band at the same time. Maybe I was in junior high band then.

    When we all went into the band room, Mr. Beach let us know what had happened and had wheeled a TV in there so we could watch the news coverage. He was very emotional about it and that stayed with me. No band practice that day.

  4. Kelly Sedinger says:

    You were a year behind me, right? I was in 9th grade, so that put me in senior band. Not one of my teachers so much as mentioned it. It didn't feel like a real event until I got home. That was a really classy thing for Mr. Beach to do. Wow. (Senior Band had regular rehearsal that afternoon. The only time I ever saw Mr. Roosa allow regular rehearsal to not take place as scheduled was when Dustin died.)

  5. Tina says:

    I remember vividly how I learned this news. I was in college at the time, working part time teaching gymnastics to have grocery money, etc. I had my group on the balance beam when a co-worker called me into our break room to watch the live coverage. I still can't describe how I felt. It was like losing hope and dream at the same time. I remember Christa McAuliffe's smiling face as she boarded the shuttle, and the thought of that smile, that person, being gone really hit me. You see, I was studying to be a teacher. I, like you, thought we'd one day find life on other planets, and I remember thinking, "Well, we sure won't send people into space again for a long time. NASA will be crucified for this. Seems I wasn't far off…thanks for posting a reminder to us all.

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