The Challenger Disaster: Do You Remember?

The Challenger Disaster: Do You Remember?

The Challenger Disaster: A Remberence

I am writting this post on a special subject on a special day.  I wanted to take a moment to express my thoughts on an incident of note from my memory. It was 25 years ago today, January 28, 1986 that the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift off.

There are a few times in your life when an incident is so powerful that you remember if with incredible detail- as if it happened only yesterday. Anyone who was alive when President Kennedy was assassinated can probably tell you where they were, in detail, at the time they found out about his death. I surely remember exactly where I was and what was happening when the World Trade Center was destroyed!

This remembering of important incidents in your life is called “flashbulb memory” because it tends to be so powerful and detailed in it retention- as if a photograph was taken of that moment and it was stored in memory. The scientific/psychological aspects of this process are interesting, at least to me, but that is not the purpose of this post. (One important thing to note, just because a flashbulb memory stands out in high relief from the more vague memories of daily existence, does not mean you remember the details accurately.

Even 25 years later I can remember exactly where I was when the shuttle exploded- I can see the odd plume of smoke appear, spreading out from the pinpoint of the shuttle like some dirt wad splattering against a wall.

I was watching from the 17th floor of a high rise building in downtown Orlando. It was crystal clear and I was watching from window that, as I recollect, was south facing. The view was beautiful. The power of this rocket was almost palpable even from so far away.

Just a few weeks before I had watched a shuttle launch from the press site, which is in close proximity to the shuttle compared to the view most people have. I was a photographer at that time and was photographing the launch with a long lens that brought the image of the shuttle so close, It was as if I was right next to this giant faucet, spewing flames and smoke. The heat and power of the thrust causes the air to pop and sputter as it expands and rapidly evacuates the area around the directed explosion of the rocket thrust. Even a mile or so away- from the safe distance of the press site, the power of the solid rocket propellant almost made my hair stand on end.

I was always a space travel/NASA fan and watched many years before as we landed on the moon- watched it on TV, glued to the set while Neil Armstrong made his famous speech. So, for me, the crystal clear view of the Challenger launch from my work place in Orlando was a treat- until my heart sank in realization- I felt like throwing up!

After the plume of smoke cleared- the shuttle disappeared into nothingness. No more smoke trail as the rocket pushed on into earth orbit. For a moment, everything was totally silent, except perhaps for a slight gasp I heard coming from me! The feeling was surreal. After the few moments of silence, people in the office were beginning to realize what had happened. The buzz of voices around me grew louder and more chaotic. “Did it explode? It looked like it exploded!”

That’s all I really remember. After the shock set in, nothing else is retrievable from my memory other than lots of talk about Christa McAuliffe because she was this hometown teacher, so dedicated to her student’s learning. It was all over the news for weeks.

Among national tragedies, this in one that stands out in memory for many of us who were around at that time. Truly a great loss, a tragedy of epic proportions. . . So let us all take a moment to remember these Americans, our astronauts, who’s bravery, dedication, and passion we should all aspire to. The Astronauts of the Challenger: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

Interested in reading more about the space shuttle Challenger? check out Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster for details about the actually shuttle and the problems that caused the explosion.

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