An older generation will never forget where they were when they heard the news of President Kennedy’s murder Alas, I have three such memories. The 2001 terror attacks in the US, the destruction of Columbia and its crew in 2003 and the loss of Challenger are events whose horror has etched them permanently on my memory. Here are my personal reactions to this sad piece of history.

 

Image of challenger_51-l_crew

Heroes all: Back row (Left-Right): Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik. Front row (Left-Right): Michael J. Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair. (Image credit: NASA)

 

I was sitting at home with my brother and father early on a January evening in 1986. I wasn’t watching the television but looked up when a newsflash interrupted the gameshow Countdown. “The space shuttle Challenger has exploded” were the chilling first words from the solemn newsreader, followed by footage of the terrible yet eerily beautiful fireball which ended seven lives. Chilled to the bone, I didn’t need to be told that the crew were unlikely to have survived.

The disaster also ended an age of innocence. For the years immediately following Columbia’s first flight to orbit it had seemed that space travel was back on track. NASA’s gleaming fleet of high-tech shuttles were routinely carrying payloads into space (Challenger’s final flight was the 25th shuttle mission).  Soon a shuttle would place a giant telescope above the atmosphere, another would send the Galileo mission towards Jupiter. A proper modular space station would no doubt follow a few years later. Before long we would see unique materials created in microgravity, orbiting solar power collectors beaming free energy back to Earth. By 2000, surely the cheap access to space afforded by the shuttle would lead to a return to the Moon and human exploration of Mars. It was not yet Clarke and Kubrick’s 2001, but it was getting there.

Suddenly these dream turned to ashes. In the months following we learned how uncertain and expensive each shuttle mission was, how much of the apparent ease of shuttle operations was really well-meaning propaganda. In retrospect, it should have been obvious. Launching a hypersonic rocket plane into space and bringing it back were not the routine tasks they had seemed. Never again would I believe the conquest of space to be easy.

(article by Colin Johnston, Science Education Director)


4 Comments

Debra · March 6, 2016 at 15:34

I was 16 yrs old in Brunswick Georgia on Jan 28, 1986 . I could see from our house the shuttle lifting off because we’re not that far from the launch site ( Kennedy) and as the terrain is very flat around the coast, we could see launches and this day, we were watching as the Challenger lifted off and watching as well on live TV. When It exploded, it was shocking. I started to cry, knowing all on board surely lost their life. In what was supposed to have been excitement and a proud moment in time, turned to horror for me. Words cant describe. It traumatized me to an extent becuase I had never witnessed an accident in any form that took lives. I remember my sisters crying and my Mother and the neighbors calling asking did we just see what happened. It was an awful feeling of extreme loss and unbelief that such a thing could happen.( This was my memory of that day as a 16 yr old teenager)

    admin · March 7, 2016 at 09:33

    Dear Debra, thank you for sharing your memories of this sad day.

Mike Tittensor · April 16, 2011 at 15:21

I was sitting in my college room and it came over the radio.
I ran downstairs to the TV room and we all sat there in shock at the film footage played over and over again. I can still remember the silence in a normally rowdy common room punctuated only by the occasional profanity of disbelief.

    admin · April 22, 2011 at 08:20

    I think it was so shocking because it came out of the blue. I do wonder though if it is only space buffs who remember it so well.

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