This day began like any other day for me. I woke up early in the morning to read a bit before school (at the time, I was very much into the Hardy Boys, so it was likely I was reading one of the many novels in the series), and then my mom likely "woke" me so I would eat some sort of warm breakfast before I went out on a cold Midwestern morning to catch the school bus.
The moment where things begin to have some clarity was when we were all sitting in our classroom taking attendance, and our teacher told us that we were going to go watch the space shuttle launch in the LRC. I remember looking around the classroom at the bulletin board, which included a huge view of the space shuttle, with marked details all around it, along with a picture of seven astronauts sitting together. I recognized the fairly motherly looking one with the curly hair; she was a teacher, too. Her name was Christa McAuliffe.
I followed our teacher to the LRC along with my classmates. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks. It was my dream to be an astronaut, and this launch was special: a great deal of coverage of the launch had been delivered to us via our Weekly Readers for the last several weeks, stirring us up to a near-fever pitch. I wasn't alone in my anticipation of this event.
Our teacher had been entered into the competition to go into space, so there was yet another layer of interest there -- it could very easily had been Mrs. Ferguson who went up in that shuttle. To tell the truth, I was quite glad that it was not her ... she was my favorite teacher, and I still talk to her on a regular basis.
The LRC was full of kids, pretty much everyone that was close to my age that I knew was in the room. We all sat down on the green carpeting and watched the television. Dan Rather was discussing the significance of the trip, and we got a peek at the students of Christa McAuliffe.
I was especially intrigued with the whole countdown sequence; I had never seen a spaceship lift off before. The countdown reached zero, and a bevy of flames came out from under the ship, and ever so slowly it began to press upward.
The ship went higher and higher in the sky, and one of my friends at the time, who was far less interested in this than I was, began to prattle on about something. But I kept watching... I wanted to watch for as long as they would show the ship. And then suddenly...
I was probably the first person in the room to sense there was something wrong. The flame, which had burned almost constantly since the liftoff, began to change quite a bit in intensity. I gasped a bit, and my friend turned back toward the television.
And then it blew up.
The room had started to fill with the conversations of children, as one can imagine in a room jammed with all of the students in a primary school. But there was dead silence except for the voices on the television. Another explosion, and the ship seemed to burst into pieces in a ball of flame and smoke.
Stunned silence. My teacher started to cry, and so did many of the students in the room. One teacher turned off the television, and the teachers started to confer about how to handle the situation.
I didn't cry. I sat there staring at the blackened television for a while. I couldn't believe what had just happened.
The teachers turned the television back on after a bit, apparently deciding that this was a momentous event and that, since we had already experienced the trauma of the explosion, we might as well watch more of the coverage. Dan Rather grasped at straws to explain it to us.
They let us out of school early that day. After watching the coverage all morning, we went back to our classrooms. In our room, one wall was suddenly bare; while watching the coverage, Mrs. Ferguson had taken down all of the Challenger decorations.
When I got home, I watched a bit more of the coverage with my parents, and then I went to my bedroom, which at the time I shared with my two older brothers. The one poster on the wall that was mine was of the moon landing. I looked at Neil Armstrong and burst into tears.
I think this experience changed a lot of young lives in America. The explosion of the Challenger was to many of us the defining moment of our childhood, and a very strongly remembered moment to many, many more. I still do not like watching video of Challenger lifting off for the final time.
I gave up my dream of being an astronaut. Now I just want to be a writer.
I do not usually write daylogs, but I feel this is an important one in many ways. The explosion of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 brought the memories of this day back vividly in my mind, and as I talked to my friends about it, I realized that Challenger really had affected us all. This is a day that our generation will share, much like the one before us shares November 22, 1963.