Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The Age of Innocence, 1986

Where were you 18 years ago today when the Challenger space shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, killing its 7 crew members? I was in Century City, working on a audit for a large public company. I had lunch at the Sports Deli there with two co-workers. The restaurant was crowded to capacity, as the Sports Deli had televisons. Remember how every network televised the shuttle explosion over and over and over? It was mesmerizing to watch, and unbelievable.

We were shocked by this failure, and deeply shaken by the death of the 7 astronauts. We were pained beyond words by the death of Christa McAuliffe, the "Teacher in Space. " Ronald Reagan was President then. None of us had heard of the internet, and most of us were still computer virgins. "The War" referred to Vietnam, which had just ended a decade ago. Cable TV was an exotic luxury. We had never heard of suicide bombers, and the violent tragedies of September 11, 2001 were still 15 years away.

We were shocked by the idea that a major US venture, or NASA, could fail. We were unused to the violence of the explosion that took the lives of Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnick, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. We mourned for many days with the country and their families. Most of us still remember their names and even their smiling faces, waving as they boarded the shuttle.

We remember where we were when we heard the news of the Challenger, because of our deep shock.

One year ago, on February 1, 2003, another space shuttle, Columbia, disintegrated over central Texas and took the lives of 7 more of our best and brightest men and women. We might remember where we were when we heard the awful was Saturday morning, and I was at home. We were saddened more than shocked. CNN played film of the streaking shuttle breaking up for much of that day. Most of us can only remember the name of Flight Commander Rick Husband. Their collective faces and smiles aren't engraved in our memories. Only snippets of services for the fallen patriot pioneers were broadcast on TV. Pro sports events went on as scheduled that day.

It's sad to realize the violence and loss we now accept as part of normal life. It's hard to feel outrage and shock at the death of 7 people when it occurs every day, both at home and abroad. We see unspeakable tragedy on the news every night.

Today, I mourn the 7 crew members who lost their lives in the Challenger accident 18 years ago on a sunny Florida morning. I also mourn for the loss of our national innocence, when we could still feel shock and pain for the loss of 7 lives.

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