It may seem impossible to realize but 30 years ago the Challenger exploded soon after lift off and filled the skies with death. I remember it well.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning. I had opted to sleep in as I was off that day. The sounds of my radio reminded me it was time to get up. My two cats also crawled over my bed, over me. Disc jockeys Lee Jolly and Chuck Schramick joked back and forth as they usually did in the morning. They mentioned the space shuttle had ice hanging off the outsides. The launch was postponed an hour. Another song played and I pulled the covers over my head.
The golden oldies song was interrupted. Lee asked Chuck if he could hear ok? Lee thumped his hand on the mic. Then the news which created dread and sadness was announced. The Challenger had exploded. I turned the tv on and watched the three stations available – ABC, CBS and NBC. Very few if any had much more. I watched CBS and listened to Dan Rather as he spoke reverently and quietly. Cameras scanned the Atlantic Ocean. The reflection of the sun on the water and the floating debris sent a chill down my spine. The entire country was at a loss. The crew was gone and that included a New England school teacher.
President Reagan had been scheduled to present his State of the Union speech that night. It was postponed. He did speak eloquently and assured the American public of other heroes -who had died in the pursuit of discovery, of courage. He mentioned Sir Francis Drake who had died 390 years earlier. The President’s words were spoken by a master and conveyed the correct emotions.
A memorial ceremony was held at NASA – south of Houston. President and Mrs. Reagan flew to Ellington Field aboard Air Force One. The day was cold but sunny. Crowds filled the site. The President’s speech was that of a consoling elder whose life had seen his share of grief. I remember he and Mrs. Reagan hugged each family member – among them a number of young children. Their dads were gone – their school teacher mom would not be coming home. Their lives as they knew it forever changed.
That week-end my parents visited me in Houston. After attending church on Sunday and sharing a meal at a favorite eatery – Black Eyed Pea – we drove to NASA. I took photos of the wreaths, floral tributes which covered the entrance. At that time there was not any fence surrounding NASA – just well manicured grounds. Folks stood by in silence, a few spoke in hushed tones. The moment was one of respect, an attempt to understand how quickly life can end. The cold, crisp air filled our lungs. We paid our respect in our own way.