It's hard to believe that it's twenty years since Challenger, twenty years since our confidence (we'll send a civilian!) and optimism (we'll send a teacher!) was shattered. I still remember everything about that morning so clearly.
The launch (originally scheduled for January 22) had been pushed back for days, until it was scheduled for the 27th. By that time, I was in exams at school, so we didn't have our regular schedule, only three exam periods a day. Since I had no exams at the time, I was home watching the countdown and hoping to see the lift-off. This was during my "I want to be an astronaut" phase (a phase I'll note that's never really ended for me) and I watched as many shuttle launches as I could, and this one especially because teacher Christa McAuliffe was aboard. In 1985, I'd been to Florida and seen the Challenger lift-off, so of all the shuttles, Challenger was the "best" in my adolescent mind.
The launch was scrubbed that day, I don’t remember why. Maybe winds? Maybe the cold? (Ah, "ground servicing equipment hatch closing fixture could not be removed from orbiter hatch" says NASA) I remember being disappointed. The next morning, I was up and the TV was on again, but again the launch was delayed, this time as they waited for it to warm up. And finally, I had to leave to head to school and take a math exam. I was walking from the T stop next to my high school towards the main building when my friend Kevin stopped me in front of the gym.
"Did you hear about the space shuttle?! It blew up!"
"No, that's impossible." I told him. I'd been there! I'd seen the thing! I had mounds of packets from NASA at home, all about the space program! I even knew an astronaut! But then I noticed everyone around me was talking about. I hurried into the building, trying not to think about it. As we got settled in our seats for the exam, the headmaster came on the loudspeaker and announced the accident to everyone. Then Mrs. Young handed out our exam, which I promptly flunked.
It's hard to believe it's been twenty years, and that during that time, human space travel has become no more routine. In fact, we've lost a second shuttle, and the whole necessity of manned space travel continues to be called into question. But there's no doubt in my mind that we'll continue to explore the final frontier. Eventually we'll return to the moon and head to Mars, and hopefully farther. We'll continue to explore the worlds beyond our own, and when we do, we'll carry the memory not just of the Challenger crew, but all those who've lost their lives doing something amazing: heading into outer space.