Friday, January 28, 2011

"They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth to Touch the Face of God..."

Unbelievably, it's been 25 years since the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. This is clearly one of those moments in history that you know exactly where you where when it happened.

Strangely enough, I didn't even know the Challenger was slated to take off that January morning in 1986. I remembered the excitement around the selection of Christa McAuliffe as the first teacher in space (especially since my high school choir teacher, Mrs. Berman, had entered the competition) but after the excitement died down, I moved on to other things and forgot about the pending mission.

I was a junior at Marlboro High School in Marlboro, NJ, and had just gotten dressed for gym class (a horror in and of itself for me) when our principal came over the loudspeaker. That signified something serious, since you literally saw Dr. Casey at freshman orientation and then just before graduation. One of the teachers at school, Mr. Silvestri, had suffered a heart attack about a week earlier, so a few of us thought Dr. Casey was going to announce that Mr. Silvestri had taken a turn for the worse.

But instead, he shared the horrible news of the Challenger explosion. The rest of the day seemed like a bad dream, as we watched on television—over and over and over again—as the Challenger took off and the crowd in Florida (including Christa McAuliffe's parents) watched excitedly, and as the explosion occurred, no one understoof the magnitude of what occurred right away.

Twenty-five years later, this tragedy still remains in our memories. Although McAuliffe was the only name many knew, we lost some incredibly brave astronauts that day. I still get chills when I think of President Reagan's speech in which he said the crew "slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God," quoting the poem High Flight by young pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr., who died in 1941, far too young, in an aviation crash.

I salute the brave men and women in our space program who put their lives at risk every day to advance the cause of further knowledge and exploration. We owe each of you a greater debt of gratitude than our nation can ever repay.

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