|Photo credit: 1986, Bruce Weaver, AP|
The Challenger crew included Mission Specialist Ellison S. Onizuka, (second Shuttle mission) the first Asian American in space. Mission Specialist McNair and two women, New Hampshire high-school teacher Pay Load Specialist Christa McAuliffe and biomedical engineer, Mission Specialist Judith A. Resnik, second woman in space in 1984. (The first woman in space was Sally Ride in 1983.) Commander Francis R. Dick Scobee, Pilot Michael J. Smith, who was an experienced pilot, but Challenger was his first space flight. McAuliffe beat out 11,000 other teachers to be the first teacher in space. Payload Specialist Gregory B. Jarvis beat out 600 other Hughes Airforce Corp employees for the opportunity to fly with Challenger.
A space launch is an event that school teachers take advantage of. It is a huge opportunity to teach science in a real, factual, exciting, fun manner. Teachers would have their students watch the launch on t.v. Because a teacher was on board in 1986- the first teacher to ever take part in a space program, nearly all teachers across the United States were focusing curriculum around the watch and tuned in with their students to watch on that day.
All of us watching were shocked. Stunned. NASA had launched shuttles twenty-four times successfully prior to this launch. The concept of failure was unimaginable. We were all watching live- in real time. The explosion took place after one minute and thirteen seconds. A mere blink of an eye. Normally, you watch a launch and you feel the exhileration and then the camera follows, follows, follows as the aircraft climbs higher into the sky. With this broadcast, as the explosion took place before our eyes, we were stunned. The horror of the explosion continues to cause me to feel sick to my stomach.
"The crew compartment shot out of the fireball, intact, and continued upward another three miles before plummeting. The free fall lasted more than two minutes. There was no parachute to slow the descent, no escape system whatsoever; NASA had skipped all that in shuttle development. Space travel was considered so ordinary, in fact, that the Challenger seven wore little more than blue coveralls and skimpy motorcycle-type helmets for takeoff.
In a horrific flash, the most diverse space crew ever — including one black, one Japanese-American and two women, one of them a Jew — was gone." Full story found here.
A couple of gal friends and I were headed to Florida for Spring Break. We were all married, in mid-twenties. I was the only one of us that had a child. We went to Cocoa Beach and on every motel and restaurant marquee the messages read
our hearts go out to the families of the Challenger crew.
The launch and subsequent explosion took place on January 28, 1986 and we were down at the beach for spring break - April. The bars were crawling with sailors from ships, all in from Virginia Beach. They referred to it as "VA beach." They were on a mission- to clean up the debris from the explosion. It was everywhere. Pieces of tile littered the beach. Did I think about picking one up and taking it home with me? I suppose. But it would be something akin to taking a piece from a car wreck when someone dies as a result of that wreck. It was too macabre. The sailors had a name for the debris - "space trash."
The reminders were all around us, even three months after the explosion, that something terrible had happened. And now, twenty-five years later, we remember.