Still Remembering Their Courage 37 Years Later | Opinion
There will always be times in our lives when the events that shape our history are permanently burned into our memories. Tuesday January 28th, 1986 was one of those historic events that I promised myself I would never forget and this past weekend we commemorated the 37th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.
You would have expected late January to be cold in the Northeast and I would not be disappointed that day. However, the chill that blanketed us that day extended to Florida on the clear and cold January morning when I traveled to the Albany, New York area on a business trip.
I was making good headway when I hit Route 9 in southern Vermont and headed over what they call Hogback Mountain to Bennington. I had stopped at one of my favorite spots at the top of the mountain for a quick cup of coffee and to enjoy the view south over the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts at a small restaurant that is now closed .
My plan was to have lunch at Ted’s Fish Fry on Route 7, where the roadway would begin its slow descent to Troy. It was a hole in the wall that locals preferred and was a favorite of mine when going to the Albany area for meetings.
I really wanted to be with Ted at around 11:30 am so I could watch the launch of STS-51L from its perch on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was a great day for all of us in New Hampshire as a young woman won the right to represent teachers from a field of 11,000 other applicants. Her name was Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from my hometown of Concord, New Hampshire,
She would be seated alongside the other six crew members that day; Francis (Dick) Scobee the commander on this mission. mission pilot Mike Smith; Judith Resnick, Mission Specialist; Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist; Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist and Greg Jarvis, Payload Specialist.
All of these brave personalities would embark alongside Christa McAuliffe on a journey few were lucky enough to experience.
Christa carried with her children’s science experiments that they would carry out on a round-the-world flight aboard the Shuttle Challenger. This teaching experience would be streamed live to classrooms around the world; a teacher’s first lessons in space.
My brother Bill, who worked in sales at the local Sears store, arranged for several televisions to be delivered and set up so the students could watch the event as if they were there.
The voyage aboard the Challenger was a wonderful endeavor for which Christa would train for a full year, and she carried with her the respect and love of teachers across the profession she held so dear.
Steve McAuliffe, Christa’s husband, would be present at the launch along with their two children, eight-year-old Scott and five-year-old Caroline, and Christa’s parents, Grace and Ed Corrigan. They all attended the launch, as did many other relatives, friends and children from their school.
In addition to them, the VIP bleachers at the Space Center were packed with family and friends from the other six crew members. They would watch the Challenger shuttle lift off the launch pad as they had done nine times before. This time, however, should be different. 73 seconds after what seemed a normal start, millions of people around the world watched in horror and disbelief as their worst fears soon became reality.
I had met Christa and her husband Steven shortly after they moved to Concord in early 1982. Steve had accepted a job with the Attorney General’s Office as an Assistant AG. I was so delighted to hear about your remarkable opportunity to be chosen as a role model for so many others. Her enthusiasm, energy and drive for excellence were contagious.
I sat at Ted’s Fish Fry, my eyes on the small TV screen, and watched, as did so many others that day, proud to have known someone who would make such a wondrous journey. It was a day that started with such high hopes and great expectations; However, it was a day that would end in sadness and disbelief. A day that would shake the American space program to the core and make us doubt its worth.
I canceled my meetings that day and just checked into my hotel and continued to focus on the events surrounding the disaster that we all witnessed. My drive back to Concord the next day was consumed with so many sad thoughts.
As the months rolled by after the heartbreak of the Challenger disaster, I felt immense pride in the community I grew up in and how they came together to protect their family’s privacy, allow them to grieve in private, and trying to make sense of the tragedy that had befallen them.
Even today, when I occasionally travel back to Concord, I will visit the graves of some of my own family members that are in the same cemetery where Christa is buried. Her place overlooks the meandering Merrimack River, which meanders through the community she loved and called home.
Sharon Christa McAuliffe was reaching for the stars, and even within that tragedy came a lesson that she passed on to her family, friends, and students. She led by example and showed us that you have to reach for your dreams. That you must pursue them with great energy and have the courage to believe in yourself and in those dreams.
President Reagan’s words are probably among the most profound as he reflected on the tragedy of that day. “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us today with the way they lived their lives. We shall never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, untying the surly bonds of the earth to touch the face of God.”
I hope today from the bottom of my heart that future generations will not forget or forget the courage of these seven brave people who dared to reach for the stars. That they will be known not only for the tragedy that befell them, but for the courage, call to duty and love of country they shared.
As such, I will try to keep these names alive for as long as I can as a person capable of doing so.