Friday, January 28, 2011

Today in History

There are lots of websites that will give you a breakdown of what HISTORIC events happened on this day in the past:

Each will give you some random facts about events that have changed or influenced our history, and some that have been forgotten by history.

So yesterday, I was scrambling through the site and read through what's happened this week in history, and came across an image that sparked a memory i hadn't thought about in a very long time.

On January 28th 1986, way before most of you who will read this post were even born, the space shuttle Challenger exploded during its take off. I remember this vividly for a number of different reasons.

1) I was on a school tour of the NY newspaper "The Daily News".
2) We paused during the tour to watch the liftoff along with a ton of journalists and reporters on the TV's.
3) I had never witnessed a space shuttle launch before.
4) Christa McAuliffe

 I recall Christa because she wasn't an astronaut - she was a school teacher. And she didn't even teach math or science - she was a social studies teacher.

NASA had this idea that if they gave the opportunity to train with astronauts and actually fly into space to everyday folks, it might stir up some interest in the space program again. Because let's be honest, unless you are already a fan of space travel, you likely don't remember anything NASA related since we landed on the moon the first time. The result: The Teacher in Space Project.

Over 11,000 teachers applied for the chance to put on a real-live space suit, but it was Christa who won over the selection committee. NASA official Alan Ladwig said "she had an infectious enthusiasm" (from Wikipedia).

It was that infectious enthusiasm that endeared her to the public. Tons of kids dream of becoming astronauts, but that number starts dwindling fast when they find out how long and hard road is to get there. It makes space seem even father away then it already is. Something us average folks will never get a chance at.

Christa reminded me and my classmates and people all over the country of that enthusiasm we once had. For the possibility of...well, almost anything. NASA's plan worked - it seemed to me like the entire world had tuned back in to the space program. Everyone was behind Christa and cheering her on. She was even going to teach a couple lessons from space.

The morning of the space shuttle launch, there were people jumping up and down, dozens of signs and posters - not just at the actual launch site, but everywhere that large groups had gathered around television sets to watch one of "us" head into the atmosphere and then out of this world. Everyone counted down with the TV announcers and screamed with joy as the shuttle fired and took off. It was actually happening.

That excitement didn't last for much more than a minute. I remember seeing all the kids around me. We were huddled in tight like we were trying to conserve body heat in a winter storm. And a wave of cold shock hit us all, 73 seconds after takeoff, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded. There were no survivors.

At first, it was like time had stopped. Some mouths hung open, others had been clutched by hands. We all stood and watched in disbelief. For us kids, it would have been sad no matter what, but a teacher had been on the shuttle. She could've been our teacher...and that thought was just too close for comfort. A moment later, the newsroom went ballistic as journalists and reporters all ran rampant, grabbing ringing phones and getting to work on telling the story of what had just happened.

I personally don't recall anything about the rest of the tour. But it was all over the news for days. Eventually the attention moved on. Later that year there were scholarships and schools named after Christa McAuliffe and in her honor. I didn't know her, but i felt like i did. I haven't watched any NASA related stuff on the news since.

Teen Link Staff Member


  1. I remember that day very well, like a snapshot in time. I was living in Florida and were actually able to go outside as a group and watch the launches as they happened. All of us watched as the shuttle blew up, and we knew (having seen many launches in the past) that something went terribly wrong. My elementary school had all of us gather in the lunch room to discuss what we had just seen and process the event. What a tragedy.

  2. That was incredible, thank you so much. You're right, I don't remember the incident - it seems distant and unreal. Sure, people die. Hearing such a personal account was deeply moving. I didn't know about Christa. Thank you.