Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenger - 20 years on

January 28, 1986. 11:39 a.m. ET.

I still remember what it felt like. In an instant, my idealistic beliefs in the infallibility of technology evaporated as I sat in stunned, disbelieving silence, watching the shattered pieces of humanity's most vaunted technological icon splash ingloriously into the ocean.

It's cliche to call the seven astronauts who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger heroes. But in so many ways, they were. As were the seven who perished aboard Columbia 17 years later, and the three lost in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1967. They risked - and ultimately lost - it all so that we would continue to push the bounds of exploration.

They were doing what humans have done forever; constantly challenging the limits of movement imposed on us by our current technology. From the earliest wheels to ancient ships to the latest aircraft, no new transportation system into a new environment has been developed, exploited and made routine without risk, or loss.

When I think of Apollo, Challenger and Columbia, I think of the countless aviators who perished in primitive contraptions so that we could cross the planet in a day with little more than some bothersome jet lag and a kinked neck from the lousy little pillows they hand out on trans-oceanic flights.

The extreme has become mundane. But only because explorers among us were willing to go there first. And possibly not return.

I shudder to think where we'd be without their kind. Likely nowhere.

I remember their names as clearly today as I did long before they first lifted off on that tragic day: Francis "Dick" Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. I think of Commander Scobee and Pilot Smith, who by ancient tradition were ultimately responsible for the ship and its crew, who never got to bring their crewmates home - not because of anything they did, but because of the flawed organizational underpinnings of NASA, the organization they trusted with their lives.

Ms. McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, never did get to teach her lesson from orbit, and it was her loss that most poignantly galvanized the nation's sense of loss. Yet in the years since, we've started to learn how to turn unspeakable loss into hope for the future. We've lost another orbiter, endured the same painful analysis of the organizational and human factors that drove both losses, and emerged from the other side with the same drive to improve, advance and look forward.

Folding up our tents and going home was never an option. Nor should it ever be.

I never saw Ms. McAuliffe's lesson plans for that flight, but I suspect they very likely incorporated those very themes. May the exploration she and her crewmates so selflessly pursued never be hindered by those among us whose fear of risk would have us not try at all.

Onward.

Your turn: Thoughts?

45 comments:

srp said...

Here from Michele today.

My lab was having a baby shower for me and we were all watching the lift off. It was with shock and great sadness that the reality slowly set in. Great discovery and advances in technology always come with danger and the risk of failure. I think I've heard something said about Thomas Edison, that it took thousands of tries before the light bulb actually worked. What if he had given up on number 900?

Your post has also reminded me that my little baby girl will turn 20 in a couple of months. Where has the time gone?

PresentStorm said...

Beautiful post Carmi..was a great tribute and reminder.I am speachless though...* claps*

Bob said...

A very eloquent tribute to the Challenger crew.

I would argue that space exploration needs to continue, but I am not sure the government needs to be the primary driver of it. Institutionally, I think NASA has become too complacent and willing to live with too much risk and too little quality.

I wrote about this in my blog (http://matchgame79.blogspot.com/2005_07_01_matchgame79_archive.html) when the Discovery went up last summer.

I am of the believe the private sector might be better able to do the job.

Again, thanks for your wonderfully written tribute.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Here via Michele's this time, Carmi.

I was home sick from school that day and watching the telly with a terrible flu.

For the first few seconds we didn't realize what was happening.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Great Great Post Carmi...as always deeply thoughtful and heartfelt. I agree with you 100%. Without our Pioneers in ALL things, we would be nowhere...but the losses are heart breaking.

Here from Michele today, my dear Carmi

Stephanie Davies said...

Very well written and poignant. I'm here from Michele's today...

I'm still a fairly young puppy in this world. I'm 27 years old, so I don't remember World War 1 or 2, Vietnam, or the day Kennedy was shot. I am barely old enough to remember the Challenger disaster. I would have been 8 years old when it happened, and I don't really remember much - I knew something bad had happened, and that people had died, but it wasn't until 2 years later in the fourth grade that I really comprehended what happened.

It was a sad loss for our nation, but it really was a great sacrifice so that we could further our goals.

ribbiticus said...

once again, a wonderful tribute, carmi. i, too, remember the ill-fated crew of the challenger. christa mcauliffe was a particularly tragic blow. i remember seeing a cnn report on how her family was dealing with her loss and all i could think of was how her family must have felt and wondered if they, too, regretted having supported her in that mission.

on the other hand, would like to get your thoughts on the imminent paid space trips that reports say should be commonplace soon. that's if you have thousands of dollars at your disposal...:)

Dave said...

A very good post, here from Michele's today but pop in often as you know.

PresentStorm said...

I remember being in class ( fifth grade) when the Challenger blew up.The teacher turned on the tv so we could all watch the news..We were all crying and asking questions.We morned them the rest of the day and wrote papers on our feelings of what happened.

Michele sent me :)

Shane said...

quite a solemn day that was. The pilot was from my home state (Hawaii).

I often go to Little Tokyo here in Los Angeles (they have a tribute there).

Cheers from me and Michele

PresentStorm said...

I keep getting the great pleasure of being after you in the M&G :) So here I am again Carmi..Thanks for stopping by and leaving a wonderful comment.Thanks for the prayers :)

here via Michele again!! :)

utenzi said...

Michele sent me to see you again, Carmi.

I remember seeing the Challenger blow up also, Carmi. I was horrified at the time but I never really had any lingering feelings about it. I know many people have. For me it's like 9/11 in NYC. Tragic and horrible but not anything to really change your life. Oddly enough many people won't fly due to 9/11 and want to curtain the space program due to the Challenger and other more recent mishaps.

It's amazing to me that people would be willing to do this kind of work and I'm so glad that they do. Riding a bomb up into the sky is incredibly fraught with risk--we're lucky the rockets work as often as they do.

rob said...

Well done.

The ongoing pursuit to explore space is beyond necessary, especially in light of the inherent dangers. So long as there are questions in the sky that remain enigmatic on the ground, we will do what we must to get up there and answer them.

Is there any question that the men and women who risk their lives pioneering and discovering and innovating in space are heroes? I should hope not. These are people...just people...who freakin' fly. Who fly in space. It wasn't too long ago that there was a different word for someone who did that and it wasn't "hero". It was "god".

I remember with great clarity the day the Challenger went up. I was in fourth grade and Crista McAullife was a big deal. My entire class was sent to the library to watch the first astro-teacher be sent into space and when the shuttle dissolved into a conflagratory stew, no one moved. We thought it was some sort of joke and were waiting for the punch line. Then the librarian quickly moved to turn the television off prompting my teacher to snap, "Don't you dare touch that knob!" It was pretty intense.

Dak-Ind said...

greetings from michele.

today is my husbands birthday, and he will forever remember that it was tainted with tragedy.

for the shuttle, we watched it live on the telly at school as it exploded, there was a long silence then pandemonium. it is another of those moments in time that we will all remember where we were.

Sexy Soccamom said...

Truly an elegant and thought provoking post. Hi via Michele's.

Lisa said...

not much I can add to that, Carmi. Beautiful job, as always. I'll never forget the day of the Challenger tragedy. I was still young and naive, but felt just a little less so that day....

bschneider5 said...

Michele sent me also. Nice blog by the way.

kristal said...

Wonderful post! I remember sitting in social studies class watching the launch on tv. As soon as it happened the teacher turned off the tv. It turned out that he hadn't had permission to show it live in class, but felt it was an important historical moment that we should witness.

Plumkrazzee said...

I was 10. We had a T.V. hauled into our classroom to watch, not an everyday happening...we were so excited. All I remember was alot of gasping, and alot of teachers crying, along with several children who could not grasp what had happened. Years later, after watching the federal building in OK collapse, the drama unfold at Waco, and the destruction that 9/11 brought, I can imagine what the 'adults' were going through that day. So very, very sad.

Sandy said...

What a nice tribute Carmi.

I was home from school that day - I think it was a snow day but I can't be sure. Either way, the event itself had such an impact. I remember seeing it happen. I remember staring at the screen in disbelief.

WendyWings said...

Wow it is hard to believe it is 20 years but then again my friend who named his daughter Christa after Christa McAuliffe would remember it to the minute,he was there and witnessed it first hand :(
Michele sent me today.

panthergirl said...

That was a beautiful accounting of that day from your perspective, Carmi.

I remember it clearly as well. I was visiting my sister in Atlanta and we were having an ice storm. The weather was very bizarre.

I remember seeing Christa McCauliff's students and parents...it was all so sad.

margalit said...

I was at work the day of the accident. I was working not too far from Christa McAuliffe's hometown, in a defense related industry that made nosecones. My former boss, who was the biggest bitch ever to walk the earth, refused to allow us to listen to the news or discuss it. We were to go back to work like nothing happened. I went home. I also got fired about a month later, and boy, was that a relief.

margalit said...

Back from Michele again, just because I love you.

kenju said...

Carmi, this is an excellent example of your writing skills, as well as a fitting tribute to the fallen heroes of the Challenger. I'm giving you a standing ovation!


Michele sent me, and boy am I glad she did!

Beanhead said...

I still remember the day like it was yesterday. I was in 5th grade and it devastated me.

Shelli said...

I, too, remember exactly where I was when the tragedy of Challenger happened. I was pregnant with my first child and I was home laying on the couch with horrible morning sickness! I felt even worse after that happened.

Michele sent me.

kontan said...

I was in fourth grade and for some reason we were not watching the launch, but the teacher had the television on and facing her. I was able to see it from my desk and remember being shocked and confused. At that time, I didn't know what was wrong, but knew that something was not right about the special launch.

Wonderful post Carmi.

Tasha said...

Hey Carmi! Here from Michelle's. I just posted on another blog about how I was only 5. WE lived in Florida and as my mom watched- I didn't really see it. I was probably chasing a grasshopper. I will be remembering 9/11 the rest of my life....

bschneider5 said...

Seems I've been here before! Could the Michele crowd be smaller than once thought?

Chrixean said...

My thoughts? Sadly, it is because of the strings of tragedies that have been linked to these space exploration projects, i have been led to believe that the whole landing on the moon story was and is a hoax...

Joan said...

It was my baby sister's first birthday. I was reading my Weekly Reader during 3rd grade "quiet time" when we got the news that Challenger had gone down. My 4-H club later made a banner honoring Ellison Onizuka, a former 4-H'er, coupled with a large-scale model of the Challenger to carry in the Orange Bowl parade.

The death of the space shuttle Challenger and all she carried deeply touched my life; you've created a lovely, poignant tribute here, Carmi.

Interesting facts:
Apollo 1 - January 27, 1967
Challenger - January 28, 1986
Columbia - February 1, 2003

All anniversaries within a week of each other. A span of 19 years between the first two, 17 between the last two. I wonder if NASA will attempt anything around this time of year in 2021.

Viamarie said...

Great tribute! That was a really sad event.

Btw, I find your postings very interesting. Congrats!

margalit said...

That oatmeal with brown sugar sounds really good about now. I just love me some oatmeal!

Back from Michele

srp said...

Back again from Michele.
One of the comments was very interesting. I hadn't known that the three major tragedies in the space program were all clustered around the same date. Again, a great post.

YellowRose said...

Wonderful, beautiful tribute Carmi! This was something that hit our family, my husband has been in the Areospace industry for over 20 years. It's one big family this industry...and that's how it felt that day, like our family was taken away.

Michele sent me!

jac said...

Folding up our tents and going home was never an option. Nor should it ever be.

This reminds me what it really is all about to be an American AND a progressive human being. Your tribute to the Challenger is touching and eloquent. Thank you !

I'm by way of Michele's!

Ben said...

Nice tribute, I wholeheartedly support the space program; even if people think it's not important.

Cheers

~A~ said...

Got here all by myself tonight. ;)

What a great post. It was just what my brain needed to get out of the cookie funk. I'm glad stopped by man.

Later, ~A~

atpanda said...

I've been thinking about that day this week too. I was only in 2nd grade (I know, I'm a baby...), but I remember our teacher bringing in a TV so we could see the launch. I remember the teacher not knowing how to deal with us when the space shuttle blew up. So, so sad.

Michele sent me.

Killired said...

you're such a good writer! Here from michele's... but i check in with you every now and then!

anyway... i posted a little about this yesterday too... not much writing from me though...i guess i'm more visual as i posted several pictures from the tragic event... interesting how we both took an event and chose to honor it huh? check out mine!

Kimberly said...

A beautiful post, Carmi.

I was in architecture grad school, and we had the lift-off on TV while preparing an exhibition of student work. There had been much chatting and laughter as we worked; I remember the room going silent as, one by one, people realized that something had gone dreadfully wrong.

Karen said...

Yes, I distinctly remember where I was and what I was doing. I also remember feeling so sad for Krista McAuliffe's family and her students, since she was not an astronaut. However, all of the families suffered so greatly that day. Very, very sad.

Michele sent me, but as you know, I'm a regular!

d.challener roe said...

Beautiful post.

You've already been by my site so I won't rehash where I was that day.

I'm also glad we didn't stop after this tragedy but tried to learn from it. Groundbreaking exploration will always carry spectacular risks, but we never understand the universe we live in without those risks.

Since Challenger NASA has had other spectacular failures, and the spirit to fight on has taught us so much...here's one of my favorite that we've learned from Hubble...

Hold your hand at arms length and stick out your thumb (kind of like your giving a thumbs up to the night sky). The area of sky you block with your thumb holds about 100 million galaxies.

There's so much left to explore

halloulhasan said...

I remember that day i was driving my son to nursery school and i heard it in the car radio, i scream so loud and the teers start to just run from my eyes, i drove home run in front of the T.V , what can i say it was so sad but the challenger crew will always be heros in all of our eyes and history. Your writing skills amaze me every time great job Carmi.