Memory Lane: Space Shuttle Challenger

I was in my freshman year French class.

My French teacher, God rest his soul, was a weird dude. I wish I remembered his name. He wore the widest ties with the craziest patterns, completely mismatched outfits, and often appeared to be in his own French-speaking la-la land.

But hey, when I traveled to Paris for spring break one year, I had enough high school French under my belt to get by.

It started to snow. Then the principal came on the public announcement system. I thought for sure they were going to send us home early — that an Erie blizzard was starting up.

So what she told us instead didn’t make sense at first.

++

They didn’t send us home early. When I got home from school that day, I watched the footage of it on the news.

This was the days before cable news, before the 24-hour news cycle. Interest in the launch was probably higher than usual because of the presence of a teacher on board the shuttle.

They played it over and over again. I finally turned it off.

“Why do they keep showing it?” I asked my mom. She shrugged at me; I remember she looked sad and troubled, touched by the deaths of those astronauts.

“They announced it at school,” I told her. “I thought they were sending us home early.”

“It started to snow right when it happened,” she told me. “I wondered about that. If the launch had something to do with the weather. Isn’t that strange?”

++

Today, space shuttle Atlantis lifted off for NASA’s final shuttle mission. As I listened to the news this morning, I thought about Christa McAuliffe, and that long-ago classroom. About the legacy of space flight, about what comes next.

I wonder if my children will travel to the stars, to the moon, to other planets. If they want to, I hope they get the opportunity. What a dream that would be.

Do you remember the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster? Where were you? Do you think your kids will go into space?

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9 thoughts on “Memory Lane: Space Shuttle Challenger

  1. I was in college, Edinboro University, studying to be a teacher. I returned to my apartment after class and walked into a room of friends watching the news, the same picture over and over again. No one said much, not much to say. It was a tragedy and I can still see it in my mind. I do think my children may have an opportunity to travel to space but it will be only for the super rich.

  2. We had a snow day, and I watched it live, right from my basement, with the orange shag carpet (which may have been green by then). I seem to recall not knowing what was happening at first when the shuttle looked as if it was turning into a round, red ball. But I may have “added” that memory based on seeing subsequent footage on TV. I thought it was especially sad because of the teacher.

  3. I was working at the giant record store in my town and we had a big projection TV in there, on which we usually played the brand new MTV channel. I don’t remember if the launch was on live, but pretty soon, it seemed to be on an endless loop throughout the day. Made it pretty tough to concentrate on selling Def Leppard cassettes for the rest of the day.

  4. French teacher: Mr. Pawlowski. I still remember that silly french song he taught us about planting cabbages. and the story about him kissing his wife /girlfriend through a screen door. He was a weird little man. Much preferred Mr. Hall 🙂

    I do remember that day too…french class, the snow, the announcement and being totally caught off guard. I think that was the first national tragedy I was ever aware of, and affected by. unfortunately there have been many more since.

    I am sad to see the shuttle program end, especially since there doesn’t seem to be anything coming down the road to replace it. my FIL is literally a rocket scientist, so I will have to pick his brain about things to come.

    I would love to see more space travel…would love to do it myself given the opportunity!

    • OMG, how do you remember his name?! That was it, though! HAHAHA. As far as Mr. Hall, I just remember how uncomfortable he seemed teaching a classroom of Catholic school girls. The poor man. Was he 10 years older than we were, fer gawd’s sake?

      I could not envision going up into space myself. Something about a small space, the possibility of instant death. I’m the same way thinking about being deep under the ocean in a submarine.

      I’m probably focused on the wrong things.

  5. I was in line in the cafeteria when they announced it over the PA system. And like you, I remember the news playing it over and over and over. Much like the 9/11 coverage, I finally just had to stop watching and mourn without the visual cues. I can still close my eyes and see it exploding though.

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