I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since the Challenger tragedy. As with tragic events, I remember exactly where I was when it happened. (I wish I could remember what I had for dinner last night as easily as I remember this.)
I was living in Florida with my parents, working at an insurance agency, while my then-boyfriend (hi JBM!) was working in Antarctica. Now, this was right after Hurricane Elena had caused significant damage to SW Florida so we were busy, to say the least. I had spent the weekend camping on the other side of the state with a friend, because we were going to watch a live shuttle launch…yep, you got it. The Challenger.
But each day the launch was postponed due to cold temperatures (which made camping VERY pleasant, as you can imagine). We woke up each morning and drove to the Space Center, only to be told that it was too cold to launch, come back tomorrow. After three days we gave up and headed home. But we did get to take a tour of the facility, and watch the shuttle being transferred to the launch pad. I have pictures, but they’re buried in a huge Rubbermaid container in the bottom of my closet. You’ll just have to trust me on this.
Anyway, back home, back at work, with a television turned on in the conference room to watch the launch. Where we witnessed the horrifying event. The phones started ringing immediately, as our adjusters called in to report that they had seen the entire event from out in the field. We sat in stunned silence as the magnitude of the tragedy sunk in.
It hit a little closer to home for me because I had seen the shuttle. Watched it slowly rolling toward the launch pad. Had tour guides explain each nuance of the shuttle, their voyage, the science behind the project – everything. And if I’d had another day of vacation, I would have been standing in the crowd, watching it explode over our heads.
I’ve since seen other launches, from afar. Haven’t been back to Kennedy Space Center. And was equally as horrified when the Columbia crashed.
So today I’ll take a minute to remember those souls who died doing what they loved. Remembering how the tragedy shook a nation, and the world. And being a wee bit grateful that I wasn’t in that crowd. It was hard enough seeing it on television; I don’t know how I would have handled the raw emotion shared by hundreds of people watching it in person – some possibly with ties to the astronauts.
Rest in peace.