Remembering Challenger

There are certain dates in our lifetimes that we all remember exactly where we were when momentous events occurred.

As a group, they are known as Pearl Harbor moments because all Americans who were alive then knew exactly where they were when that attack by Japan brought the United States into World War II.

For some of us who were not alive on Dec. 7, 1941, other such moments include the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, and, most certainly, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But another of those memorable days occurred 33 years ago. On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger blew up just a little over a minute after liftoff from Cape Canaveral in Florida. All seven crew members died, including Christa McAuliffe, who was attempting to be the first teacher in space.

We were keenly interested in the Challenger mission because our children were all in elementary school and every class was awaiting Mrs. McAuliffe’s lessons from space. A couple of teachers were dressed in tin-foil mock astronaut suits, and the entire school was excited about the mission.

That made the tragedy doubly sad and memorable, because schools across the country were making similar preparations and millions of children saw the Challenger blow up live on television.

As parents, we tried to comfort our children but they were confused and heartsick. Luckily, President Ronald Reagan helped by giving what The Washington Post later termed the perfect speech.

“I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff,” Reagan said. “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

“We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.

“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives,” Reagan said. “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’ “

(Sources: Wikipedia and The Washington Post)

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.