It wasn’t as life-changing as the assasination of President Kennedy or the 9/11 Bombing, but I’ve always thought of the Challenger crash as the defining national tragedy of my generation. It was the first time our day was interrupted by death. It’s the first instance when I can say I knew where I was when I heard the news.
I was in Mrs. Kirsch’s eighth grade history class, fourth period. I don’t remember the day’s topic — just the principal coming over the loudspeaker announcing that the Challenger space shuttle had just exploded after takeoff and that any teachers who had televisions in their classrooms could turn on the news to see the coverage. Mrs. Kirsch immediately motioned for the boy sitting closest to the TV to turn it on.
For the few minutes remaining before lunch period, we watched the scene replay over and over again. Every time I saw the fire and smoke explode on the screen my stomach dropped and my heart skipped a beat.
I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for the students of Christa McCauliffe’s class and her family along with the other astronauts’ families, who watched the scene unfold live — their excitement tinged with worry turning to horrible distress and finally uncontrollable grief.
It was all we could talk about at the lunch table. Had they survive? Could they survive? It wasn’t possible, but you want to hold out hope for a miracle. For an afternoon we forgot about the petty drama of adolescence. For a few hours it no longer mattered whether the boy/girl we had a crush on liked us back.
Hallway chatter between classes seemed more subdued. Lockers didn’t really slam shut; they merely closed. And while the tragedy didn’t change our worlds — those of us who had no knowledge of the people associated with this disaster — it still heightened our sense of reality, making us realize the fragility of life and the suddenness of death