Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Where were you 29 years ago?

Most of what I write about in my work days is sports related, but today I am taking a trip back in time, back 29 years ago to Jan. 28, 1986.
Back then, I was a kid, not the old man I have grown into now. I was a student at E.G. Sherburne School in Pelham, NH. A testament to how long ago that was is the simple fact that the school doesn't exist anymore. The building converted to other uses years ago.
Jan. 28, 1986 started out as a day for celebration, particularly for the state of New Hampshire. It was the day that New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe was boarding the space shuttle and heading into space. Much had been made of Christa winning the chance to become the first teacher in space and the buildup was fantastic across the state of New Hampshire. As home to the first American in space, Alan Shepard, New Hampshire had a pre-existing connection to the space program, but this was something new. This was a new generation of individuals getting inthralled at the idea of the space program and the possibilities that it presented.
As students in New Hampshire, we'd done numerous projects on Christa McAuliffe's exciting opportunity and Jan. 28, 1986 was the day that we were going to get to see this opportunity reach its zenith.
Nowadays, there are televisions in every classroom, or at least it seems that way. Movie presentations and the like are the norm. Back in 1986, this was not normal. Getting to watch television in school was a special treat.
The fourth grade at EG Sherburne School was in a pod sort of style. There was one big room divided into three rooms and then (for some reason) a fourth room that was separated by cement walls. The fourth graders all gathered in one of the "rooms"  (it wasn't my room) with the television at the front so that we could witness history. This was much the same for other grades (or at least I think it was, the details of that are a little fuzzy).
I remember the excitement leading up to the launch of the Challenger in Florida. The broadcast showed the faces of Christa McAuliffe's parents watching from a safe distance away. As the shuttle shot up into the bright blue sky, the plumes of smoke billowing from its tank, it seemed as if all was right with the world, as if everything was going as planned.
But obviously, we all know that things didn't go as planned. Christa McAuliffe never made it into space. The Challenger exploded in midair shortly after takeoff, as bystanders watched in horror and thousands of kids across the state (and the country) watched from their school desks, really unsure as to what happened when that one single plume of smoke changed to numerous plumes out of a large explosion in the sky.
I remember the teachers ushering us back to our respective classes, unsure themselves what they had just witnessed, but obviously well aware that it was not good. They did their best to not let on that maybe they were as worried as we were.
Quite often on Jan. 28 I recount this story. I've written about it in my weekly sports column in the newspaper and on Facebook. But for some reason, this is one of the most vivid memories of my childhood. It spawned a major science project for me the very next year and always creeps back into my mind at the end of January.
I remember the names of Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Dick Scobee, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair and Michael Smith almost from memory. And I remember watching President Reagan on television that night, giving what has been classified as one of the most significant speeches of the 20th Century, addressing America through the television in lieu of his scheduled State of the Union address. His closing line, borrowed from a poem High Flight, "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
Some memories never escape you. I won't forget just where I was and what I was doing, the last time I saw them.

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