Remembering the Challenger – 30 Years Later

As I drove to work this morning, the incessantly chatty people on the morning radio station asked what happened 30 years ago. “We’ll be back in a minute to tell you,” they said.

I didn’t need them to tell me. I knew. Thirty years ago I was a senior in high school — no, you don’t need to do the math — and we were actually out of school because there was ice on the ground. It had all melted by mid-morning, and I drove to the shoe store to look for shoes. Why I needed shoes in January in 1986, I don’t know, but it is a very clear memory. On the way home, I heard on the radio about the explosion, and there was nothing on television the rest of the day except accounts of the disaster.

Yes, there was cable, but we lived out in the middle of nowhere, and we only had antenna television. My grandparents would have been horrified to pay a monthly bill for television. It comes through the air! It’s free! Why on earth would you pay? Now thirty years later people are trending backwards and cutting the cable again as they choose adhoc television services. (We still give the cable company a big chunk of change primarily for live sports.)

But I digress. Thirty years ago I was buying shoes and the world changed on a dime. We were promised that regular citizens would go into space. Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher, died that morning, along with seven astronauts.

If you were of age then, you still remember. The New York Times has a great article today, and here is a quote from the husband she left behind:

“The passage of 30 years since the Challenger accident is not of great personal significance to our family,” Mr. McAuliffe said in a statement to The Associated Press. “For us, Challenger will always be an event that occurred just recently. Our thoughts and memories of Christa will always be fresh and comforting.” Her is a link to the article: New York Times – Remembering the Challenger

Now, the space program barely gets a mention in the media. When Howard Wolowitz on the Big Bang Theory went into space he had to go to the space station via a Russian Rocket. SpaceX deploys satellites now, and NASA has not come up with an alternative to the shuttle program. Does it feel like we are regressing? People apply to go to the first Mars colony, but allegedly we can’t even get back to the moon now. See this article on whether we can get back. Can we go to the moon?

A little bit of all of us changed that day, and I’m not sure we will ever have the optimism about space that we once had. I’m starting to write in the science fiction romance genre, and I’ve been reading more about space travel. In my imaginary world, space travel is routine, but I’m not sure we will reach routine space travel in my lifetime. Thirty years ago I would have said we would.

Where were you when the Challenger went down? I’d love to hear your stories.