On January 28, 1986, seventy-three seconds after liftoff the Space Shuttle Orbiter Challenger broke apart. I was fourteen at the time and remember this day well. I was supposed to be at Cape Canaveral that day, but had come down with the flu and missed it. It would have been the third time I would have seen a launch.
A family friend, Robbie, knew how much I loved the mere thought of space flight. I don’t know how he did it, but he was able to get tickets to the launches, and gladly brought me along. We were usually out in the fields among thousands of other people. On this day, though, he had somehow gotten us tickets to the grandstands.
The flu came along. I was sick and had to call Robbie to tell him I couldn’t go. To say I was disappointed is, well, it can’t describe how I felt. Think about it, seven brave souls, strapping themselves into a bomb, that’s all a rocket is, a controlled bomb.
Even though I was sick, I was sitting in the living room anxiously awaiting liftoff. As soon as mission control said, “We have liftoff.” I ran outside and looked to the east. I can remember hearing myself yelling as soon as I saw it. We only live about ninety miles away, and you could see the rockets take off from the Cape.
Then it happened. The breakup. I remember yelling for my dad, for some reason he was home that day. He was watching on the television and as soon as he saw the explosion he came running out. He didn’t look to the sky, he grabbed me up and took me inside. I was inconsolable. Both mom and dad wrapped me in their arms.
When you’re that age, you want to think you’re a tough guy. You want to think that nothing bothers you. I wasn’t that day. Seven people that I admired were gone in seconds. Seven people who wanted to touch the stars, gone in a flash.
Thirty years later, as I sit at my desk writing this, tears still come to my eyes. I’m forty-four now and still dream of space flight. To these seven souls, heroes of my youth, heroes still today, I hope the little that I do makes you proud.