Thirty years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger took off as much of the world watched, and then exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, due to a failed engine booster.
Many US children were watching that day, because, on board with the six NASA astronauts was Christa McAuliffe, who was a school teacher meant to be "the first teacher in space." Lots of classrooms were tuned into the launch.
It's one of those moments in US history, like the assassination of JFK or 9/11, where people who were alive at the time tend to remember where they were when they saw or heard the news.
I was in 6th grade. My math teacher had brought in her own little TV, and it was sitting on a chair at the front of the classroom. We were watching it live, like most of the other students in the building, and I remember how all of us looked at the teacher when it happened, and she ran to the TV and grasped its edges in her hands, staring at the screen, like maybe she would somehow be able to stop it.
The Challenger astronauts are not the only brave explorers who have lost their lives in the history of the US space program, but January 28 is NASA's Annual Day of Remembrance, and today the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion looms large, even as they recommit to ever more ambitious space exploration:
Wreath-laying ceremonies were planned for Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as NASA commemorated the seven lives lost on January 28, 1986, as well as other deadly space disasters over the years.Today we especially remember Greg Jarvis, Christa McAuliffe, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Dick Scobee, and Mike Smith—the crew of the Challenger, who died reaching for the stars.
"Space exploration is one of the most difficult endeavors we undertake, and from Apollo 1 to Challenger to Columbia, brave Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice in our quest to push new boundaries, and explore new frontiers," President Barack Obama said in a statement marking NASA's annual Day of Remembrance.
"Yet, despite the dangers, we continue to reach for the stars," he added.
"From new partnerships with private industry to the development of groundbreaking inventions that Americans will take with them into the Solar System and eventually to Mars, we will continue our journey of discovery."