I will never, ever forget this day. I was a senior at Brainerd High School, looking toward graduation and starting college. It was the start of Orchestra class, the period after lunch, and one of my classmates had somehow heard the news that the shuttle exploded. He was known to be a jokester, so we were skeptical; but when our teacher came into the classroom with tears streaming down her face, we knew it was the truth. I don’t remember anything else about that period. Fifth period was Contemporary Issues class, and the teacher already had a TV set up tuned to the news. I spent the next hour with my eyes fixed on the screen, slowly realizing this was real and not some Hollywood blockbuster movie.
This mission was supposed to be a special one, the start of the Teacher in Space Program. My Girl Scout leader had applied to the program and had awaited this launch with excitement. As a prospective teacher,I had dreamed of one day following in Christa McAuliffe’s footsteps. The TISP was eliminated after the disaster and replaced in 1998 with the Educator Astronaut Program, which allowed teachers to retire as classroom educators and train as mission specialist astronauts to teach from space. I never applied, but I did get to attend Space Academy for Educators at the NASA Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville in 1994.
For my brother and sister and parents, the Kennedy assassination was their historical touchpoint: the event which separated their lives until “before” and “after.” For those of us in Generation X, it was the Challenger disaster that shaped us [until 9-11 replaced it for pretty much all generations].
Astronauts, we salute your bravery and mourn your passing, now and forever.
Francis R. Scobee, Commander
Michael J. Smith, Pilot
Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist
Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Teacher