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Where Were You When the Challenger…?

Where you when Challenger…?

January 18, 2024

Every generation has its “Where were you when” moment. For Baby Boomers, it was when Kennedy was shot. For Millennials, it was 9/11. And for us Gen Xers, it was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.

January 28, 1986. I still remember where I was. I was in religion class at my Catholic school, working on a report about Saint Anne. I also remember wishing I was in the history class across the hall watching the shuttle launch live because of the presence of Christa McAuliffe.

The Teacher-in-Space program was an attempt by NASA to get people interested in the space program again. By 1986, many had come to see spaceflight as routine. Even boring. As a result, the networks no longer regularly covered launches, and the public seemed not to care anymore.

By having McAuliffe, an ordinary schoolteacher, as part of the crew, it was hoped that people would start dreaming of the stars again- especially children. Unfortunately, the presence of Christa McAuliffe might have helped contribute to the tragedy.

In the following investigation, it was revealed that some engineers believed it was too cold to launch. The fear was that cold could cause the O-rings on the Solid Rocket Boosters to fail. However, the launch had already been postponed multiple times, and NASA feared how another delay would look. Especially with more eyes than usual on Challenger’s mission because of the Teacher-In-Space.

So, the decision was made to launch. And 73 seconds in, as a direct result of the failure of the O-rings, the shuttle exploded. Christa McAuliffe and astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Greg Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, and Judy Resnick all perished.

I was doing my Saint Anne report when a classmate of mine, who had passed the history class on the way to the bathroom, told everyone she had heard the television say Challenger exploded. My teacher went to check and confirmed the news. It was true.

Later that afternoon, those of us in the Junior High watched recaps of the tragedy on the TV in the lunchroom. After seeing the replay, I became grateful that I hadn’t been watching it live. Knowing ahead of time what had happened was shocking enough.

The Challenger explosion shook the entire country. The following investigation helped to change the culture of NASA, and it was hoped these changes would prevent another tragedy. Unfortunately, disaster struck NASA again when Columbia broke up on reentry 17 years later.

January 28th is now known as Christa McAuliffe day. It is a time to remember the bravery of the seven who lost their lives in 1986. If you are interested in learning more, check out the following books:

The Challenger Disaster by Pranas T. Naujokaitis

Challenger Revealed by Richard C. Cook

The Burning Blue by Kevin Cook

Pamela M.
Antioch Branch

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