Happy Twenty Fifth Anniversary Challenger Explosion

Suddenly and for the first time I saw Amanda as a little child wide eyed with both awe and fear, among other children some sitting on the floor, some in chairs, some standing behind desks, eyes trained on a TV monitor and their teacher as the sudden realization dawned that the Space Shuttle Challenger had been consumed in a fiery, deadly explosion. The teacher on board was incinerated before their very eyes. As the explosion developed, shooting out huge arms of smoke and the voice-over began to acknowledge that something was wrong, NASA’s space program was suddenly transformed, in the eyes of the innocent little children of America almost all of whom were watching the event live, from a somewhat interesting science project to a place where teachers went to die. I had never really visualized Amanda as a little girl before, but a few years ago when this came up, on the Anniversary of the Challenger explosion, this image formed as a lump in my throat.

I’m a few years older than Amanda, so my experience was a little different. I had just returned form the Congo. I had borrowed a car … a Laser, which is a sort of sports car … and driven it to a friend’s apartment downtown over an Italian restaurant and tavern, and parked it on a snow bank out front. That’s normal for Upstate New York. By the time morning came, the car was more than a little stuck, so I called Triple-A to pull it out. I made the call from the tavern, and while doing so I noticed that the Challenger launch was being shown on the TV. So I stood at the bar and watched the launch. And the explosion. When the tow truck came, I mentioned to the driver that the Challenger had just exploded. He thought for a moment and said, shaking his head slowly, “You’re not gonna get me on that thing. No sir!” I thought … yeah, that might be a tough sell from this point forward.

It is said that when NASA started the Shuttle program, they made an estimate of risk of death to those who would be on board. Given the number of flights and the number of deadly events and the number of those killed, they’re apparently right in the expected range.

Happy Twenty Fifth Anniversary Challenger Explosion.

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5 thoughts on “Happy Twenty Fifth Anniversary Challenger Explosion

  1. I was looking forward to moon landings years before I convinced my parents to let me stay up to watch the first one on TV. I grew up in the Space Age.

    Something made me leap out of bed that morning 25 years ago. At the bookstore where I worked, we had five customers that day.

    What brought it home to me months later was an event at the park in front of the Colorado state capitol. A Boy Scout troop dedicated a United States flag that had been aboard the Challenger and was recovered from the bottom of the ocean.

    That was a strong moment and it echoes even now.

  2. That was the day I first realized I was getting “old.” I was talking with a secretary (remember that word?) in an office at the med school where we worked. She and I were remembering where we were when we heard that JFK had been shot, and wondering if we would remember this event as vividly. After a few minutes, another staffer who’d been working there for several years said, “I hate to say this, but I wasn’t even born then.”

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