Thanksgiving came…and went.
Not the kind we’ve been used to for all those years, but we made it anyway and had a nice day with friends who were nice enough to include us in their day.
The weekend that followed was pleasant and quiet and perfect for getting the outdoor “stuff” done before the cold and snows of winter arrive. Best of all, there was plenty of time to enjoy college and pro football and some Blackhawks hockey. Without a doubt, I managed to take it all in!
By Sunday evening, though, having had enough TV football and hockey for one long weekend, I happened upon a documentary from CNN titled The 80s-The Tech Boom. And though I don’t usually watch CNN, I realized that this program was made up of actual archival news footage and would be presented in an unaltered and honest fashion. So I watched and enjoyed the hour-long show.
It was fun to see again the “cutting edge” gadgets that would become staples in our lives right on up to today. Particularly interesting to me was the section on the birth of the personal computer and the cell phone. It’s hard to imagine that what was “state of the art” not all that long ago, is so cumbersome and awkward looking by today’s standards.
Seeing young and fresh out-of-the-box geniuses such as the two Steves–Wozniak and Jobs–and a seemingly still-wet-behind-the-ears Bill Gates and Paul Allen was quite amazing. Watching all of this from a 2016 perspective adds an extra-special realization as to how far things have advanced in such a short period of time.
Near the end of the documentary, the focus shifted to the technology involved with NASA’s Shuttle Program, where things were full speed ahead for so many years, until the January 1986 launch of the Challenger, another one of those memorable moments in time for my family.
On that frigid morning, I was teaching a high school English class at Astronaut High School in Titusville, Florida. (It’s not named Astronaut by chance, since the Space Center and Cape Canaveral are located nearby.)
Following our dream to live in Florida, the previous summer I accepted a job in Titusville, and Carolyn and I and our two young kids moved there in time to start the new school year.
January 28, 1986, began as usual, in a pretty normal manner for everyone in those parts. It seems as though most folks had become used to the regularity of the launches and had seemed complacent (?) in a way about the space program, although so many were employees of one of the many companies who worked for NASA in some capacity.
I suppose it’s human nature to take things for granted and not think too much about what could go wrong after such an outstanding long string of successful launches and missions. It’s not that folks didn’t care, it’s just that everyone thought that something terrible would never happen.
But on that cold Tuesday morning in Florida, terrible things certainly did happen!
I was first made aware of the explosion when one of my seniors, Danny, returned from one of his many trips to the restroom (to avoid class time, I’m sure!) with a serious expression and a tone that instantly told me that he wasn’t joking around.
When he said, “The shuttle blew up,” I really hoped that he was, indeed, pulling everyone’s leg as he tended to do frequently. But he was dead serious, and I could now hear commotion in the hallways, as two girls nearly sprinted past the door in tears and panic in their efforts to get to where they were going.
It was one of those moments when everyone seems completely mired in the muck of trying to figure out exactly what has happened and how we should handle things. Soon, a school-wide announcement informed everyone that there had been an accident with the launch and any further information would be relayed at the appropriate time.
As so many others were doing, I hurried down the hall to the east side of the building where large windows provided an open view out towards the Space Center and the Atlantic beyond. And it was then that I saw the brilliant blue sky filled with the snow-like contrails from the Challenger’s explosion, scattered and splattered in all sorts of directions. Anyone who has seen the famous photographs of this knows exactly what I mean.
I don’t really remember much else of the rest of the day other than getting home that afternoon and learning that our 3rd grader, Josh, and the rest of his classmates had witnessed the whole thing on the playground, as had Carolyn, daughter Laura, and my mom, who was visiting from Ohio. They had a pretty “up close and personal” vantage point along the river. It was my mom’s first time to view a launch.
That day certainly played a major role and turning point in our lives, one that would bring our time as residents of Florida to an end. But that’s another story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, though, that the reason I’m writing this from northern Illinois is all because of that terrible day in January 1986.
Now that Thanksgiving has faded and the Christmas and New Years holidays lurk, I know that another anniversary of the sad event on January 28, 1986, won’t be far behind. And I’ll remember…