There are times in our lives when we remember exactly where we were when something monumental happens. For my grandparents’ generation it was D-Day. For my parents’ generation it was the assassination of JFK. For mine it was the day the Challenger space shuttle blew up.
I grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, the largest city in the Granite State, and about 20 minutes from Concord where Christa McAuliffe was a high school teacher.
Teachers in my school knew McAuliffe, and we were all excited about her being the first teacher in space. Leading up to the launch there was a lot of attention spent on teaching about space, the excitement of having a teacher go to space, and having someone from our state on the shuttle.
Our school’s hallway — yes, there was only one — was lined with projects we had done. They had sayings such as “Reach For The Stars” with pictures of a shuttle flying to the moon. There were posters about who McAuliffe was and what kind of training she went through to get ready for her mission.
On the day of the launch, January 28, 1986, the entire school was brought into the cafeteria/gymnasium. There was a small television set up at the front of the room by the stage for all of us to watch. The anticipation of watching someone of whom we had learned so much and our teachers knew go into space was great.
When the launch finally happened at 11:38 a.m. I imagine there was great cheers and excitement, though I don’t remember. I don’t remember whether we could hear the commentary or the NASA controllers. What I remember instead, was what happened 73 seconds later.
Something happened. There was a lot of smoke in the sky and someone at my school turned off the television quickly. We were all ushered back to our classrooms and some of our teachers were crying. I could sense something was wrong, but it wasn’t until I returned home that it really sunk in. The Challenger and its crew were gone forever. The dream we had of seeing a teacher in space had been destroyed. Life is not fair.
The disaster was all over the news, especially in New Hampshire. I likely still have the VHS tape of our local station covering the launch. I likely still have President Reagan’s speech from that day on tape, too.
I may have been young, but I understood the brevity of what happened. It impacted me and has stuck with me all these years.
There are few specific days I remember with intimate detail. This will always be one.
Where were you? What do you remember? Share your story.