Friday, January 28, 2011

25 years ago

A moment of silence. We lost something 25 years ago.


Dick Scobee. Michael Smith. Ellison Onizuka. Judith Resnik. Ronald McNair. Christa McAuliffe. Gregory Jarvis. The first of the shuttle astronauts to die on the job.

The images of the exploding space shuttle still signify all that can go wrong with technology and the sharpest minds. The accident on Jan. 28, 1986 — a scant 73 seconds into flight, nine miles above the Atlantic for all to see — remains NASA's most visible failure.

I was at work that day, a new job doing some graphic art work and we had the radio playing. My coworker was very interested in this launch. As we listened and couldn't believe what we heard, he reached his hand out to grab mine. Today I would not be able to tell you his name, but I remember that death grip. We left work and went a half a block up to the local pub that had a tv. We watched the replay of the explosion.

One thing that was pointed out today that I hadn't thought of before, it was the world's first high-tech catastrophe to unfold on live TV. It was a new age for television.

Adding to the anguish was the young audience: School children everywhere tuned in that morning to watch the launch of the first schoolteacher and ordinary citizen bound for space, Christa McAuliffe.

She never made it.

McAuliffe and six others on board perished as the cameras rolled, victims of stiff O-ring seals and feeble bureaucratic decisions.

It was, as one grief and trauma expert recalls, "the beginning of the age when the whole world knew what happened as it happened."

Then came others, Waco, Oklahoma City, 9/11, Katrina, The DC killer, Virginia Tech. They are now all part of daily life on the tv news. We can get it as it happens.

Shuttle Columbia. I was watching a History channel show about the Challenger and the Columbia. It was seventeen years later, almost to the day, that seven more astronauts were killed, this time at the end of their mission. The similarities between Challenger and Columbia, are haunting. I can remember hearing about the Columbia explosion and not really believing that it could happen again.

Christa McAuliffe is personal to me in a unique way. I belong to a group made up of Star Trek fans, that formed a "ship". The ship is basically a club that meets and is part of a larger whole called Starfleet that has chapters across America. Our group named the ship the USS McAuliffe, in honor of Christa and her dream. The members have been together and been friends for more than 25 years.

25 years and I can still remember that hand reaching out to mine as we wondered if what had happened had really happened.

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