Twenty years ago today, I was an eleven year old sixth grader at Covington Middle School in my hometown of Covington, Indiana. I remember that Mrs. Woodrow was my teacher for the english class I was in.. and we were working on an assignment, or a reading, or something similar to that.
My neighbor, the principal’s secretary walked in and whispered something to Mrs. Woodrow. The students, of course, were all watching intently as this is not something that happened very often. She then left.
Then our teacher informed us that the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded after take-off in Florida, killing all of the astronauts aboard.
I don’t remember how I felt or even what happened for the rest of that class. I do remember a few hours later going to the library where most of the staff was gathered around the one television in the school watching the news coverage, most with tears in their eyes.
I was always interested in the space program. As a teenager, I thought I might study aeronautical engineering and perhaps attend the Naval Academy, but life had other plans for me. A visit by my family to the Kennedy Space Center a few years later reminded me of that dream, but I had already begun thinking of another course to take.
It wasn’t until years later that I was old enough to understand President Reagan’s words that evening after the Challenger had been destroyed – and now, twenty years later, they endure as a fitting tribute to those seven brave souls.
“There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”‘
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