It's 43 degrees in Central Florida today, a fitting reminder of thirty-three years ago when it was below freezing and we chose to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger from our front window instead of from the front yard. Heather, who was in first grade at the time, watched from outside, with her classmates.
"It exploded, like when you pop a balloon," she later reported.
She had no idea then that she would later graduate from Carnegie Mellon University, alma mater of Judith Resnik, one of the seven astronauts who died in that explosion. At CMU she found others who understood her emotional response. The loss of Challenger before our eyes left an indelible mark on Central Floridians. For us, it was similar to that left on the rest of the country two decades earlier by the assassination of President Kennedy, and two decades later by the destruction of the Twin Towers.
We still remember.
I also remember this poem by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., quoted at the time to great effect by President Reagan:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air....
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.