This is a 2 part article, written by both authors of Registered Evil. As many things in our history, different people, were in different places with different perspectives. These are ours. Part 2 is here. -BSJanuary 28, 1986.
My teacher, Mrs Paxton I believe her name was, had rolled a TV in our classroom to watch the shuttle lift off. 3rd grade was cool like that then. I’m a young buck, I know.
As most school systems were at the time, they were excited that a teacher had been selected to go in to space: Christa McAuliffe.
How many dreams started, and ended that day?
In some ways it was 1967.
The shuttle program was established having replaced the age old capsule system developed during the Apollo years. But we were embarking on something new, a way to inspire children and educators on the role of space in our current years. People gathered around their television sets awaiting the lift off. And the tragedy that came after.
During that time I was utterly absorbed by space. My dream was to be an astronomer, not an astronaut as so many young children wish to be. I preferred my Odyssey magazines, and my telescope to rockets and space suits.
It was almost 11:30. Our broadcast in our classroom ran a full 60 seconds behind the main television in the office. Such was the state of affairs in the 1980’s.
My teacher asked me to take some papers up to the main office for her. My classroom was less than 2 doors down , on the right, from the office. I made the trip quickly.
The office staff gathered around the television they had set up there, I dropped the papers in the basket on the main desk when I heard a gasp. I peeked over the counter, only to see the image that has been burned in countless of peoples minds since that day.
I was shooed out of the office as the principal killed the feed to the classrooms. As I walked in to my 3rd grade class they had missed the explosion. Mrs. Paxton asked me if I knew what went wrong with the feed.
I summoned what little courage I could and announced to the class room, “The space shuttle just exploded.”
One of my classmates started to heckle me, when the PA went off and our principal, his name escapes me now, announced something to the affect of “We have just lost the space shuttle Challenger.”
The silence in my classroom was deafening.
Many of my classmates were military children at the time. Several served with my father in a Aviation unit. My dad, as I have mentioned, was a Aviation Ordnancemen.
All of us had seen the wreckage of F/A-18 and F-4’s that had went down in the Chesapeake Bay , or heard about it. We were acquainted with loss, though as children not prepared for it. It was a fear at our age. Something that was possible, but not acceptable. Not that it ever really is.
Somehow this was different.
Somehow this was closer. A Teacher, someone who teaches us, a person we were taught to trust and learn from and someone who we had followed for almost 3 months was gone. Not a pilot, not a carrier deck hand. An educator. A civilian. One of, well, us.
This wasn’t how dreams were made! I could hear the sniffles in the room. One of them may have been my own.
For myself this wasn’t the way the frontier was to be explored. I had seen The Right Stuff a hundred times. I owned a copy of the book, and had read it almost as many, the cover worn and falling apart. I knew what had happened to Apollo 1. I had read about it. Seen the movie footage. I knew that Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee had all died during a rehearsal, and that space travel was dangerous.But somehow this was different. Somehow watching history as it took place in front of my eyes, made a impact.
This was not January 27, 1967. But it seemed that way.
Looking back I never stopped looking towards the stars.
I continued looking through my telescope.
I never had the fortitude to drive on, and I never had a desire to join the Air Force, thanks to having glasses. In the words of Tom Hanks in Turner & Hootch “…but I had this thing with distance vision…so no flight school for me. If you’re in the Air Force and you’re not in flight school,it means you’re scraping bird shit off of some runway in Guam for two years.” So I never dreamed of soaring among the stars.
But at night, with my telescope, I would find planets, the Webb and Moltke craters on the Moon, and I taught myself to read star charts.
I have tried to keep in mind that El Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Mike Smith , Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, Virgil Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, all died doing something for man kind that I would be unable to do. They died trying to reach that last frontier, as so many before them who went looking for the Northwest Passage, and the Westward drive.
Last night I showed my daughter her first star chart, and for her homework we made a book about space, and the planets. Eventually I will get her a telescope, and we will turn skyward.
I will tell her of those hereo’s who have been there, and those who reached out and were lost doing so. And I will tell her they died reaching for something we only lay eyes on.