25 Years ago when I was a fresh faced high school student, my class was granted permission to watch an unprecedented event live on TV. We sat excited as the space shuttle “Challenger” stood expectantly against the launch structure, waiting to take high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian crew member to join a space shuttle mission, into the upper atmosphere of our planet.
You know the rest of the story. Disaster struck as the shuttle Challenger exploded before leaving the atmosphere; a problem with a fuel line caused gas to leak and subsequently catch fire, resulting in the death of all 7 crew members.
The world was silenced by the tragedy; I remember watching in utter disbelief, my horror reflected in the eyes of my class mates, while onlookers with video cameras who turned up for a celebratory day near Cape Canaveral recorded instead a saddening event which still today leaves a scar on the community where Christa McAuliffe lived and worked.
It is said that time heals all wounds but 25 years has done nothing to remove a burden of pain etched deeply into the hearts of people living in McAuliffe’s hometown of Concord, New Hampshire.
“It hurts every time the anniversary comes around. Especially for those that knew her,” said Daniel St. Hilaire, 43 year old member of the New Hampshire Executive Council. “My son is 18 and a freshman in college, and I’ve never sat down with him to talk about it.”
St. Hilaire has lived most of his days in Concord and he remembers McAuliffe as a teacher at Concord High School. She taught social studies and was a staunch believer in experience being the real key to progress.
“She was a different kind of teacher — she didn’t just lecture in classroom,” he said. “She firmly believed that kids would learn better by experience and she lived her life that way.”
January 28th, 1986 was the day that the space shuttle “Challenger” disaster changed the lives of so many people in Concord, and even now the mention of Christa McAuliffe’s name brings tears to the eyes of residents.
“It’s difficult to have it all brought back to the forefront in my mind again,” offered 71 year old Carol Berry a friend of McAuliffe’s who made the journey from Boston way to Florida. “Every year, I think about it again. I just feel so badly.”
A whole new generation has been born in Concord since that day, but the community is making sure the tragedy, and its local hero, is never forgotten. The town’s planetarium has been named in her honour and mementos of the Challenger mission are viewable within. Concord has taken steps to ensure McAuliffe will never be forgotten.
Local children are given tours and taught about McAuliffe’s impact on the space mission, and a soon-to-be-completed elementary school is also being named after the aspiring astronaut.
Perhaps the most poignant message came from Christa’s husband Steve in the form of a letter to the board of the new school, in which he wrote: “There is no honour that Christa would cherish more than to have her name associated with a school in the hometown that she loved so dearly, I hope generations of students, teachers and administrators who pass through the new school will be inspired by her most precious lesson — ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions when they remain true to themselves and follow their dreams.”
Please share your thoughts or memories of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy by leaving a comment.
images: media180summer2009.blogspot.com, britannica.com