Thursday, January 26, 2006

Where Were You When You Heard That the Challenger Exploded?

"Twenty years ago, space shuttle Challenger blew apart into jets of fire and plumes of smoke, a terrifying sight witnessed by the families of the seven astronauts and by those who came to watch the historic launch of the first teacher in space." -- Associated Press

Where were you when you heard that the Challenger exploded?

I was 34 years old, a divorced mother for three years and working as a CPA auditor for a large downtown Los Angeles firm. It was another year until I would meet Ron, and more than five years before Andrea would be born.

I heard about the space shuttle explosion while eating lunch with two colleagues at the Sports Deli in Century City. The Sports Deli's many televisions played the explosion (shown above left) over and over and over. CBS, NBC and ABC played it endlessly, day and night.

I was mesmerized by the awfulness of it, and couldn't quite grasp the enormity of the tragedy. Not just the horrible sadness of seven astronauts dead, including the celebrated teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe with her pretty smile and warm enthusiasm.

It deeply shocked me that the US could fail. That NASA could fail. That American Success could fail. I had never before imagined that possibility.

Mass violence and terrorism were not yet part of our national lives, and the US was still unhardened to heartbreaking tragedy. Our nation was a beacon of morality and success for the rest of the world. NASA and the US space program were internationally admired and emulated. American innovation and technical expertise set the world standard.

That all changed on January 26, 1986. Our nation lost its collective naivete that mournful day.

Where were you when you heard that the Challenger exploded?

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