I love space. I love looking out into the vastness and imagining what is out beyond what my eyes can see. I love how small it makes us all seem. And I love the idea of exploring it. I’ve always been a fan of our space program. The men and women who build–and ride–the incredible machines that push the boundaries. Their intelligence and bravery leaves me in awe.
Yesterday (Thursday, January 28) marked the 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. While America’s space program had lost lives before that tragic day in 1986, this was the first time it had happened off the ground, and it was the first time civilians were a part of the casualty list. That day, as America watched, 7 brave men and women were killed when their spacecraft exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. This was not the first space shuttle launch for NASA, nor was it the first launch of that shuttle. The January 28, 1986 launch was the 25th launch of the space shuttle program, and the 10th launch of the shuttle Challenger.
I still remember walking into the living room, groggy and ready to start the day, when I saw my dad glued to the television. Dad was no couch potato, but he loved space as much as I do. He looked at me and all he could say was “it exploded.” I sat next to him and we watched the coverage together, not saying a word. I was 18 years old. President Reagan was scheduled to give a State of the Union address that night. He cancelled that speech and, instead, spoke to the country from the Oval Office. He named each of the brave astronauts and told a mourning nation they had “slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.”
Following the Challenger disaster, the space shuttle program was put on hold for a while. NASA conducted its numerous investigations, and America waited anxiously for the resumption of our space program. It was a wait that would last for years.
The 26th launch of the space shuttle program took place on September 29, 1988, when NASA sent up the shuttle Discovery. I also remember that day–it was my 21st birthday. I was working on a roof in the Southern California sun with a Vietnam veteran. As the radio stopped its music and broadcast the countdown, we put down our hammers and sat silently. And as the awesome shuttle lifted up, like the rest of America, we waited…and waited…and waited. We waited for what seemed like forever. And when we had waited for what we felt was long enough, we thrust our fists into the air and let out a loud, celebratory cheer. Our glorious space program had resumed. Though it was still early, we packed up our tools for the day, and he took me to my first bar.
That, however, is another story.
What were you doing on January 28, 1986 and on September 29, 1988?