Friday, January 28, 2011

Challenger, Go at Throttle Up

Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery
There are historic events that sear themselves into a person's conscious.  Kennedy assassination... 9/11... The Challenger explosion.  For me, the Challenger was one of those events.  I was sitting in my high school Advanced Biology class that morning.  A student in the hall stuck his head in the door and said "The Space Shuttle just blew up!" but at first nobody took him very seriously.  He said it again, more emphatically and we could tell he wasn't goofing.  My normally laid-back (and barely sober) teacher pointed at one of my classmates and barked out an instruction: "Ken.  A/V Lab, now!  Bring us back a TV!" 

He hustled back with a TV and set it up.  Then we watched the coverage in dismay.  The human cost was terrible.  Many in the classroom couldn't help but cry...

A lot has been written about the tendencies of people to be liberal in their youth and more conservative as they mature.  Not so with me.  I never had that liberal stage.  My friends and I were already fiscal and foreign policy hawks.   Rah-rah proponents of American Exceptionalism - that we had gotten our "swagger" back after bad outcomes in Vietnam and the embassy in Tehran.  We had a (foolish) belief that America under Reagan had turned a corner and could Do No Wrong.

So watching a horrid fail right there on TV was like a mulekick to the guts.  I still get both sad and pissed when I reflect on that day.  What about you?


  1. There are a few events where time stands still and you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing. For me it's John Lennon's death, the Challenger explosion and 9/11.

    For the Challenger I had just graduated college and had gone down to NYC for a job interview. I was on the train back upstate when someone sitting next to me said "the shuttle blew up."

    It's still a very sad memory.

  2. I was at home, watching the launch.

    I was also at home, reading news on the computer when 9/11 happened.

    Both events struck me as surreal.

    My wife was involved with the STS-80 mission.

  3. Infidel - Yup. Those are all big ones.

    MAX - Interesting. What did your wife do? Wasn't that the longest shuttle flight?

  4. I was at home, glued to the tv. Then I went to my daughter's school and checked her out of her first-grade class, needing to have my babies within reaching distance. I grew up with the space program and that day left a hole in my psyche that has yet to heal.

    I wrote letters to the survivors of each person aboard. Several responded. I still have those notes.

  5. A student in the hall stuck his head in the door and said "The Space Shuttle just blew up!" but at first nobody took him very seriously.

    Substitute "SSgt instructor" for student and you have EXACTLY the scenario I experienced when JFK was assassinated. I was a jeep airman student in basic electronics school at Keesler AFB at the time. The world just quit spinning at that point... classes were canceled for the remainder of the day and we all marched back to our barracks in silence. When I say "we all," I'm speaking of upwards of two or three thousand troops.

    Fast forward to the Challenger... I was at work, with no teevee near by. But someone came by my cube and said the Challenger had blown up on launch and EVERYONE stopped work and went off in search of a teevee. Nothing much was done for the remainder of the day. It was a bad day, indeed.

    I have had three such days in my life: JFK, Challenger, and 9/11. No mas, por favor.

  6. I was a little kid when JFK was killed, but I remember where I was. Lennon was a big one. Challenger was huge for me. I was working in a small ad agency in Clear Lake City, Texas, about 3 minutes from NASA. Our receptionist lived next door to the Commander; and she was really shook up.

    The other day when they showed the clip of President Reagan delivering his "...slipped the surly bonds of Earth and touched the Face of God...: speech, I couldn't help but get misty. He was so sincere and his thoughtful words were a comfort.

    A terrible time, a strong President.

  7. I was at work in my Dad's appliance and TV store. So, having coverage on 30 or so running televisions made our place popular that day.

    Dozens...heck, maybe hundreds (I don't remember exactly) of pedestrians, and motorists pulled in to grab a look at the TV.

    We spent the whole day hosting visitors, and friends. Lots of tears shed. It was definitely one of those days I won't forget.

    My oldest son was in elementary school, and when I got home from work that evening he said something like, "Daddy, why do they keep showing this over and over? I wish they would stop."

    So, we cut the TV off and played CandyLand, or something.


Family-friendly phrasing heartily encouraged.

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