Byron's Babbles

Space Shuttle Challenger: 35 Years Ago Today

It was 35 years ago today, January 28, 1986, that the United States space shuttle, Challenger, exploded shortly after launch. As I write this it is 11:38 a.m. Easter Standard Time; the exact time that the Challenger exploded. It was certainly one of those “remember where you were” moments in my life. I was in my very first year of teaching and was teaching a class of freshmen agriculture science students. We had turned on the television in the room right before launch to watch. It was such an exciting time because Christa McAuliffe was on her way to becoming the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. And, she was a teacher, chosen through the NASA Teacher in Space Project.

So, here I was watching liftoff with my students and 73 seconds after taking off, the Challenger exploded. This is the first time I have written about that experience during my first year of teaching. There was no teacher prep class that prepared me for this, no student teaching activity that allowed me to experience something like this, or no case study lesson that would have helped me answer the students’ questions. The quietness of the explosion was very confusing. We all watched in a kind of concerned silence. A few students asked what had happened. I didn’t answer, because I didn’t know. I had chills. I am getting chills right now as I think and write about it. The television reporters announced that the Challenger had exploded and after a few minutes I turned the television off. Honestly, I do not remember what I said or anything the students said after the explosion. I can remember up to and including the explosion, but after that it is very fuzzy. We were all stunned, confused, and devastated.

At 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time that evening President Ronald W. Reagan spoke to the nation and ended his remarks with some of the most moving words ever spoken: “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'” He was supposed to be giving the State of the Union address that evening. The State of the Union, for the first time in modern history, was postponed.

As a teacher, another part of what President Reagan said really spoke to me and every other teacher and all the students of the United States: “And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.” I love the thought of the future not belonging to the fainthearted. This was so true then and is very true today, and will always be true.

So today, as we reflect on that day 35 years ago, let us be brave, look to the future and not be afraid or fainthearted to do our part in advancing the horizons of this great world we live.