Saturday, January 28, 2006

20 Years

I can't believe it's been twenty years since the Challenger disaster. It doesn't seem possible to me at all, the way it didn't seem possible to my mother in 1983 that it had been twenty years since she was a young girl on the floor in the living room in front of the TV as Walter Cronkite came on to tell her Kennedy was dead. I stayed home some mornings from school back then to watch the shuttle launches, since they always took off so early. I didn't that day, because the flight had been delayed several times already. I suppose it was a good thing. Our principal calledthe teacher out of the room to tell her. I remember this look of shock ooming over her face, and she came bac in, her hands in her pockets, and said "The space shuttle blew up in space." At first I thought it was in space, I thought of something more cinematic, something more 'Star Wars.'

Of course it wasn't like that at all. Watching the playback, it was clear to me, 11 years old, something was wrong right away, that kettle fire burning under the pot belly of the external tank, and the image of the shuttle exploding was as traumatic for me then as the sight of a plane crahsing into the World Trade Center. It simply didn't compute, not for a kid who thought he was going to be an astronaut, who ran around with toy spaceships all day long. The space program never really recovered, either. As many achievements as its made since, man spaced flight in the last two decades has regressed, and after the Columbia, the space shuttle may never fly regularly again. It has no replacement, and NASA has no real plan for the future that involves manned missions. I hope that twenty years from now that the crew of the Challenger will be remembered from the moon, or from Mars. I hope that it will seem less impossible then.

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