Saturday, January 28, 2006

73 seconds

I thought she was kidding. I really did.

Our teacher's aide came in around second period looking flushed. I assumed it was because it was still cold outside, but then she told us.

"The Space Shuttle just blew up!"

There were a few nervous laughs from the class. That kind of thing didn't happen, right? She had to be kidding.

We were one of the few classes that had a TV of its own; there was a fleet of older sets on wheel carts that most other classes had to share. My teacher turned on the TV, and we saw the replay for the first of many times.

I was 11 years old.

The image of the split plume is etched in my memory, and consequently, I don't need to add the picture to this entry. If you were there, you probably remember it, too.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding the launch in schools across the country because for the first time, a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was part of the shuttle crew.

I had an interest in the space program. Not very strong, since I was unlikely to meet the vision requirements (The E at the top of the chart is a blur without my glasses), but just the concept of being in space appealed to me. In space, no one can flick your ear or try to trip you. Plus, you know, lots of Tang on hand. Clearly a lot of pluses here.

When I was a kid, civilian space travel was practically a given. We heard almost from the first day about how when we were grown-ups, we could be flying to work -- on the moon. It was always looming over the next hill, just somewhere down the road. Not after that.

My memory of that day -- 19 years and a day after the Apollo 1 disaster -- pretty much consists of that initial viewing, as if the rest of the day stopped at that point. I've only felt shock like that a few times since then, and both times, I heard about the event from someone else.

On Sept. 11, it was the pilot of our plane (we were heading home to SFO from our layover in Milwaukee) telling us what had happened.

And on Feb. 1, 2003, it was my co-worker at the paper I worked at, calling to see if I could come in early because Space Shuttle Columbia had just disintegrated over Texas. All of a sudden, I was 11 again.

Challenger Center for Space Science Education

NASA - Challenger STS 51-L Accident

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster entry at Wikipedia on Challenger transcript rumor

Yahoo links

Space Shuttle Columbia disaster entry at Wikipedia

NASA - Columbia memorial

Apollo 1 entry at Wikipedia


  1. The teachers aide was Gerry Savala. I believe we were the 1st kids in the school to know since she had just come in from her car where she heard about the tragedy. We already had the T.V. on by the time they announced it over the P.A. system. That was a long time ago "Sparky".....

  2. I was in my math class, and we were all watching tv when it happened. It was horrible. This is the one thing we can remember where we were, as JFK's assasination was for our parents. : (