Stories for the Boys: Space Shuttle Challenger, Touching the Face of God

“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.” ~ President Ronald Reagan

challenger crew nbcnews dot com

 

Dear Reader,

If this is the first post you’ve read in the “Stories for the Boys” series then there is a little information you need up front.  This series is written to and for my grandsons (and granddaughters, should I ever have any).  The stories in this series come directly from mine and my husband’s lives and are told with the hope that one day my grandchildren will read and treasure them and get to know who we were as people and learn what events shaped our lives as well as our perceptions of those events.  You’re welcome to read them and I hope you enjoy them, but the intended audience is my grandchildren.

Read on, friend.

Reach for the Stars

“Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain.” ~ President Ronald Reagan

This past Sunday was the 32nd anniversary of the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger launch and subsequent shuttle failure/destruction.  On board was Christa McAuliffe.  She was a history teacher and was chosen from more than 11,000 applicants.  Christa had dreamed of traveling in space since she was young.  By the time she got the opportunity, she was 37 years old, married, and had two young children.  Christa liked to teach her students that ordinary people impact history and “they were as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals.”  (Wikipedia)  I think I would have really liked her.  (In fact, I know someone a lot like her – a teacher in my school district who also taught my daughter in 5th grade, Jennifer Daftari.  And I do really like her.)  Through this program, President Ronald Reagan hoped to remind U.S. citizens of how important teachers and education are.  Christa would have been the first teacher in space (and the first civilian) as part of NASA’s Teachers in Space project had the shuttle not exploded shortly after launch.  NASA cancelled the Teachers in Space program after the Challenger explosion.  It would be another 12 years after the explosion before NASA would institute a similar project and it wasn’t until 2005 that the Teacher in Space program would be revived in the private sector.  (Wikipedia)

christa

Christa McAuliffe.  NASA.gov photo.

Cut to Jay High School (Jay, Delaware County, Oklahoma), Mr. Netherton’s Computer Class

Most people can tell you about a defining moment in their life that had nothing to do with them personally yet they can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing.  An early “defining moment” for me was the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  I was a junior in high school in January of 1986.  Bart was in his first year of college at Oklahoma State University.  It was mid-morning.  I remember it being about 9:30.  (Looking at the internet I see it was 11:38 EST which would be 10:38 here in Oklahoma so my memory was a little off.)  I was in Mr. Tom Netherton’s computer class and we were learning computer coding to make banners (likely on Apple IIE computers- WAY back then).  I can’t remember exactly what was on my banner but I remember I was working on it and we had the television on watching the shuttle launch.  I’m assuming most classes had a television on in their room.  It was a big moment in history for educators.

The shuttle launched and a little over a minute into flight, the shuttle exploded.  It was confusing at first.  I knew there were objects that were supposed to disconnect from the shuttle and fall away at some point and yet that didn’t seem quite right for what I was seeing on television.  A vague feeling of fear was pervasive even though the event didn’t directly affect anyone I knew.  As the announcers kept talking and the shuttle fell down toward the ocean, confusion and fear gave way to sadness and disbelief.  The only positive thing I can say is that Christa died fulfilling one of her lifelong dreams- pursuing space travel and another opportunity to broaden the horizons of her students.

There are many sad parts to the Challenger story.  One of the saddest parts of the shuttle disaster is that Christa’s parents, sister, and son were present and watching the launch (as were other astronauts’ families).  I tried watching the video of her family watching the launch.  I saw them slowly coming to the realization that Christa was in danger and they could do nothing to help her.  I’m going to be honest, I couldn’t finish the video.  My heart broke for her family and for the other families watching on in horror.

The Challenger launch was rescheduled so many times due to many different problems.  It was originally schedule to launch on January 23rd, then the 24th, then the 25th, 26th, and 27th for a variety of reasons including mechanical issues and weather.  NASA received many warnings from engineers not to launch on January 28th but they were determined to do it anyway.  From the very second of liftoff, there was one failure after another that ultimately led to the explosion and subsequent loss of life.  Once the explosion occurred, NASA locked all their doors and cut communication with the outside world.  This was, apparently, their written procedure.  There was no way for the crew to escape the shuttle.  Several times escape capability was discussed but the top NASA officials in charge decided against it each time.  The crew was conscious and apparently uninjured by the explosion.  You can hear that in the video below detailing the on-flight voice recordings.  There is evidence that at least three of them were conscious for at least part of the fall from sky to ocean and some investigators believed the crew were conscious right up to the point of their 207-mile-per-hour impact with the ocean surface.  And then there are others who believe they survived impact and were alive for several hours on the ocean floor.

Think, Pray, THEN Act

To my boys: let this be a lesson to you.  If God makes something so difficult for you that you have to defy logic, morals, and established procedures to make it happen, you need to take a step back and really think and pray about what you are wanting to do before you go ahead with it.  Only God knows if it should happen or not.  Seek His wisdom.  Between prayer and God’s wisdom that He gave us in the form of the Holy Bible, you have any answer you will ever need.  I’ve found that in my life if something is becoming that difficult it may be because it isn’t what God wants me to do.  Think.  Pray.  Read your Bible.  As my Papa DRAKE always said, choose to do the right thing no matter what.

I’m going to leave you with a few YouTube videos and a couple of photos now so you can get a feel for what I experienced that day in 1986.  The first video is a news channel showing the launch live so you get a feel for what I saw, heard, and felt that day.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSTrmJtHLFU

The second video is the launch live on CNN.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfnvFnzs91s

The third video details what was going on inside the cockpit through the launch and explosion.  It was business as usual and not a word from Christa.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQV-DrpReeQ

Watching these videos still takes my breath away and makes my tummy feel queasy.  I could not bring myself to post (or even finish watching) the video of Christa’s (and the other astronauts’) families watching their loved ones die in front of them.  You’ll have to find that on your own if it still exists when you read this and if you have the desire.

The third video is the speech President Ronald Reagan gave after the explosion.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qq1jr7UntFw

 

The first photograph is the image I remember when I think of that day and it is of the Challenger exploding.  (Photo from LATimes.com)

orl-space-shuttle-challenger-pictures latimes

 

The second photograph is the second image I think of when I think about this day and it is the Challenger crew in uniform.  Christa is the woman next to the flag- top row, second from left.  (Photo from NBCNews.com)

challenger crew nbcnews dot com

One more site I appreciated for Challenger history is at Mashable.com.  It’s worth taking a look.

Learn from history, boys.  That’s why I write these blog posts.  The people before you have made the mistakes and paid the price.  All you have to do is learn from it.  I’m not saying be afraid to take chances or do things.  I’m saying there is a time to take chances and there is a time to use caution.  I pray that you will allow God to lead you in the right direction as you live out your life.  I love you, boys.

 

Love,

Grandma

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