People talk about the day Kennedy was shot, and how everyone remembers where they were when they heard. I have two of those. 9/11, and January 28, 1986. Twenty-five years ago today (as it is after midnight, and I might not have the chance to do this later).
On January 28, 1986, at 11:39 a.m., 73 seconds into its flight. Technically, the seven crew members aboard died in space.
There are images I can’t – absolutely cannot – look at. Some of those are of the Twin Towers on fire. First among those are the shots of the smoke trails after the explosion. In addition to shutting down the space program for over two and a half years – until Discovery lifted off on September 29, 1988 – that morning broke my heart.
I sincerely hope there will be more than my feeble attempt at remembrance today. I hope schools spend time on it. I hope newscasts and periodicals and networks spend time on it. Twenty-five years ago was a terrible day, and possibly the beginning of the end of the space program; it lost the support of people who couldn’t see past the deaths to the reason they died. The reason Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair were willing to die. The narrow-minded who could look at the space program and see only the expenditure of money and the accident, and never see the reason, the purpose, the simple fact that the paucity of funding for the space program and the apathy of so much of the country were two of the causes of the explosion. Investigators can talk about ice and O-rings as much as they like, but I’ll never believe otherwise.
And now, after twenty-five years, where are we? Gone from leaders in space to … nothing. To a time when the list of scheduled lauches is a list of one. Perhaps, in a twisted sort of way, these seven were the lucky ones. They didn’t have to witness what indifference and penury have done to the explorations they loved, that they lived for, that they died for.
If, at least, I could believe that people remember, that people remember their names – Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair – it would be something.
Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. Challenger. The United States space program. Rest in peace, with my deepest gratitude.