Friday, January 27, 2006

Some Gave All...




Twenty years ago,(January 28,1986) space shuttle Challenger blew apart into jets of fire and plumes of smoke, a terrifying sight witnessed by the families of the seven astronauts and by those who came to watch the historic launch of the first teacher in space.

I recall with aching clarity exactly where I was on that cold January morning. Living in Fairbanks, Alaska, working as a school crossing guard. It was a cold clear morning, the temperature was in the negatives, my son Robby, who was only 2 at the time, lay asleep in the back seat of our station wagon (you know, the car families drove before mini vans took over). The car was running, so it would stay warm inside, I listened to the radio as I waited for each group of kids to come along. I remember the countdown, although to be honest I wasn't really paying that much attention. It wasn't a big deal in the overall scheme of my life.
I remember the chill that ran down my spine when the announcer said, "Oh dear God!". Then there was this long minute of silence, when he spoke again there was a tremble in his voice. It was clear he was having a hard time maintaining his composure. It was heartbreaking. I had to get out to help a few late stragglers cross, I remember feeling weak, shaking. Their bright, happy little faces had no idea the tragedy that had just befallen our nation. Our world.
As I look back I realize it wasn't the event itself that shook me so much as it was the feeling of being an unseeing witness to death. One moment they were there, bright, shining with hope, and excitement, the symbol of exploration and adventure. The next they were gone.

"It was one of those defining moments in your life that you will always remember," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who had flown on the shuttle mission preceding Challenger. "Because in 1986, the space shuttle was the symbol of technological prowess of the United States and all the sudden it's destroyed in front of everybody's eyes."

On board that morning was the first civilian in space. How appropriate that it should be a school teacher. A builder and shaper of young minds. Christa McAuliffe joined flight commander Dick Scobee, pilot Mike Smith and astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, Ron McNair and Greg Jarvis.

Today I take my hat off to the crew of the Challenger, to all those who have gone before them and who have come after. It is through their sacrifice that we may one day see human life expand from our little planet into the universe and beyond. They too served their country. They too gave their all.

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