On January 28, 1986, I was in my fourth grade class, anxiously watching the first "teacher in space" prepare for her journey heavenward. As the space-shuttle engines roared to life, my classmates and I moved a little closer to the flickering TV screen. Our earthbound teachers carried themselves a little more confidently in that moment as they anticipated one of their own making history. The news commentators clamored joyously as national pride swelled. It all lasted 73 seconds.
Then the unspeakable happened. A familiar shuttle, solid-rocket booster, external fuel tank triad--one we had seen climb through the Florida sky dozens of times--suddenly became a confusion of cloud-white smoke. Bewilderment settled on the airwaves and black silence invaded our classroom. One teacher quickly moved to the TV set and switched it off. A solemn day followed, ending with a President's comfort.
For months afterwards, engineers accused NASA and NASA accused engineers of error, government inquires were launched, and families and loved ones mourned. How could this have happened? Everyone felt the loss!
But for 73 seconds, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judy Resnik, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith and Ellison Onizuka--in the words of poet John Gillespie Magee--"slipped the surly bonds of earth." In a beautiful example of the spirit of human exploration, seven astronauts made their way into the vastness of the waters above. And though their lives were cut short, their legacy was not. Today they may no longer walk with us on earth; however, their memory dances in the sky.