Today marks a sad day in history. It was 26 years ago – on January 28, 1986 – that America witnessed the Challenger explosion. This was supposed to be a day of great joy and pride. For the very first time, a school teacher was being sent into outer space. Sadly, she was the first and only teacher sent off into space in a space shuttle, because as many people know, the space shuttle, Challenger, exploded shortly after liftoff. There were no survivors.
I was almost 12 years old at the time. I remember how I was in school that day, and how I noticed some of the teachers were acting really sad. We did not watch the launch on TV as so many other schools did for their classes, but we all had heard about it. What we didn’t know was that the shuttle had exploded. I finally asked one teacher why she was so sad and she told me that a teacher died on her way to outer space. She said the space shuttle had blown up and that it was really sad. She was wiping tears from her eyes as she turned away.
Later, I asked my mom about what had happened. She gave me more information about what was going on. Later, I would hear her and my dad mentioning something or other about it. And I was reminded of that sad day when my favorite TV show at that time, Punky Brewster, ran an episode where Punky’s class watched the launch and how she came home crying because of what happened.
Last year, I did some research on the Challenger tragedy. Some of the articles I read brought back those painful memories and I almost cried when I saw a picture pf the teacher, Christa McAuliffe, with her two young children. Like her, I have young children. I could never imagine leaving them and it breaks my heart that her children lost their mother at such a young age.
When I was a kid, I dreamed about being an astronaut. I took pride in the fact that they were sending women into outer space, and I idolized female astronauts such as Sally Ride. I read everything I could about outer space and being an astronaut, and I dutifully completed astronomy programs on the computer just so I could learn more about what lies in “the final frontier.” I was and still am a huge Star Trek fan, and dreamed of exploring space one day just as members of Starfleet did. Later, my interests turned more toward joining the Air Force (which I never got to do because of my deafness), but I still dream, even today, of being an astronaut. That dream lives on in my heart, despite the Challenger tragedy.
We have not attempted to send a teacher into outer space ever since that one attempt ended in tragedy. Will we ever try again? I know the space program is changing, but one wonders if there are any teachers out there who still dream of being the first teacher in space. Just so we can honor the dream of the one teacher we lost. The one teacher who came so close to making that dream a reality.
May the astronauts we lost on that sad day forever rest in peace and be remembered in our hearts.
Astronauts aboard the Challenger on January 28, 1986:
Michael J. Smith