Twenty-four years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in the skies over my home… For as long as I can remember, the shuttle program has been a way of life for me and my family. The Apollo missions to the moon ended ten months before I was born, and I was too young to remember the Apollo-Soyuz mission of Apollo 18. For me, the United States manned-spaceflight is, the Space Shuttle. My family has been involved in the US space program from basically, day one. My grandfather worked at Cape Kennedy during its earliest days. My father was the first person to have 30+ consecutive years at Kennedy Space Center. I have now worked in support of the space program for over nine years. In 1986, my father supervised the shuttle astronaut van and other large support equipment.
At the time we were not only bound to the shuttle program by our family’s livelihood. This particular mission was being utilized as the President Reagan’s catalyst to inspire kids everywhere to excel in math and science. There were handouts in classes, posters, and even TVs (unheard of at the time) being placed in classrooms around the country, to get kids involved and interested.
At 12 years old in 7th grade, I was the poster child for the target demographic that the “Teacher-in-Space” project was designed to relate to. It was like a perfect storm me and the kids around me in Brevard county.
“I still remember the cold that morning, it was bitter walking to school.”
When the launch was announced on the intercom, I was in Mr. Walker’s 5th period Algebra class, at Clearlake Middle School in Cocoa. His classroom had posters covering 90% of this windows, to keep students focused on the board. We all tried to see the launch as best we what we could out of the poster covered windows. I had just found a quarter-inch gap between two, when I saw it. I remember thinking “that doesn’t look normal.”
Moments after the launch we began heading to lunch, it was there when the reality of the situation really began hitting people. The downward spirals from the solid rocket boosters burning out was a tell-tale sign something definitely was not right. As the day when on, school administrators passed on more and more information to the students.
At home, this was the first time in my life that I had a “watch all the news you can” day. Ones like what would follow all to frequently later in life when watching events like the Oklahoma City bombing, Branch Davidians compound raid, 9/11 attacks or Operation Desert Storm unfolding.
A couple of days after the disaster, I drew a picture of the launch plume as I remembered seeing it so I would never forget. But the image of seeing the explosion through that ¼ inch gap in the window is so ingrained in my memories, it might as well of happened yesterday. Forgetting it is not ever likely.
I still have the drawing, in my office today.
Teacher in Space Project