I’m not sure I would have been as brave as Christa Mcauliffe.
When I remember that awful day, I think of the things she chose to bring with her on that space shuttle. I’d forgotten most of the items until today while reading several news stories. But there was one item that I remember hearing about in the days following the tragedy. She carried a little green stuffed frog that her child gave her.
Well that just gets me.
This is one of those days when people say ‘do you remember where you were when …’ And like most people around my age, I remember.
I was 15 and a sophomore in high school. I was in biology class and my teacher, Mr. Schott, positioned one of those audio visual carts with the TV on top and the cassette player on the shelf below in the corner of our classroom. He was excited for the launch. I can’t recall his exact connection, but I believe he knew Christa Mcauliffe. Of course it doesn’t matter because I think everyone in New England felt like they knew this teacher from New Hampshire. Someone in our own backyard. A Patriots fan who was stunned when the oversized football players asked for her autograph after a game. The country cheered for a teacher but I think New England was cheering for their local girl.
Mr. Schott tuned the TV on during the few minutes before the launch. I don’t even remember if I’d ever seen a launch before but I remember thinking it looked pretty cool. We saw the same clips everyone else saw. Walking out of the building, waving, smiling, headed to the launch pad.
And then in just over a minute, it was over. We saw the smoke billow out in two separate directions. There was confusing sounds and voices coming from the TV.
Mr. Schott walked swiftly, quietly to the TV. He turned it off. And wheeled it out of the room.
No one said a word.
There was talk of parachutes and rescue crews and maybe they were able to … could they have … might they have …
But no. Everyone knows how it ended.
Years later when I was living in Florida, I always thought it was cool that I could see rocket and shuttle launches from my apartment balcony in Orlando. Sometimes we’d have the launch on the TV and we’d run from the living room to the balcony and watch it live and on TV. But every time I watched a launch, I always held my breath a little. I think everyone that remembers the Challenge disaster probably did the same thing. How can you not? It’s such a BIG deal, you know?
I definitely think all of the astronauts that day were brave. And all that came before and have come after as well. It’s such a phenomenal thing to be on the edge of the unknown.
Thirty years ago, I remember hearing about the little green frog and thinking wow, how sad. But now, as a mom, it just rips me open. I wonder how her kids are today. As adults. Reliving this tragedy every year.
Hard to believe.