January 27, 2006

20 Years After the Challenger Disaster

Tomorrow morning will mark the 20th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and news site MSNBC has compiled a number of pieces commemorating the event, including an interesting piece on seven commonly held myths surrounding the morning of January 28th, 1986.

As with many famous sporting events, more people will say "they were there" or had seen it live, having ingrained the story so much with their own lives, that they too want to be involved, or to add personal notoriety to a famous happening - and that's just one of the "myths" addressed.

I remember learning of the Challenger disaster quite vividly. Still in elementary school, our teacher, crestfallen, told us that the shuttle had broken apart after launch, and all seven astronauts - including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, had perished. My mind racing, I formed a mental picture of these astronauts jettisoned into the black of space - gasping for air and finding only a hostile vacuum. Not until I had come home, and saw the news reports playing the event again and again, did I have the truth indelibly etched into my memory.

Space travel has always been dangerous as evidenced by Apollo 1, where three were lost in a fire, and Apollo 13, where a near-disaster averted a moon trip, and later became a major motion picture. But by 1986, a nation had forgotten this, and turned a lazy eye to the Shuttle program. As with car racing, it took a major accident for us to stand up and take notice again.