What America’s Lost Since Challenger

It was January 28th, 1986, and I was ten years old. My fellow elementary school students and I had gathered proudly in the auditorium, eager to watch a teacher fly into space. She had plans to teach two fifteen minute classes from orbit, and millions of students all over America were watching her go.

When we saw what looked like an explosion, the first thing we felt was confusion. Then fear. Then tears. Administrators called parents to pick us up early. Children at the school where she had taught were furiously chasing out the press.

At such a young age, I didn’t fully understand the significance of the president canceling his State of the Union address that night, or the concerns that the Russians could exploit the tragedy for their own purposes, or the fear that the entire space program might be brought to a quick end. It would be years before I’d learn that the astronauts were likely still alive when they hit the water.

But I remember that President Reagan’s Oval Office address about the tragedy was amazing. It flowed like poetry, sending the country into mourning with an enormous sense of pride. The crew of that ship had been, at the time, the most diverse ever, and Christa McAuliffe, the teacher, the first civilian to be sent to space, was a hero to everyone – especially to us kids.

Thirty years later, the Challenger has not been forgotten, but unfortunately, it seems that much of its spirit has. Exploring the heavens was an enormous point of national pride in 1986, a boldfaced arrow to the future. The space program inspired countless young Americans to become scientists and projected an image around the world of a country that could do extraordinary things – and do them —> Read More