We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and, perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.
And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's take-off. I know it's hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery.
-President Ronald Reagen, January 28, 1986
Twenty three years ago today at about 10am, I was a six year old school boy, watching a television screen with two dozen other kids in a suburban school outside of Houston. On the TV screen, a rocket-powered space shuttle pushed itself towards space. It almost poetically rolled as it ascended. Then, it exploded.
I watched as white smoking pieces of debris fell and fell and fell from five miles above the earth. I watched as the rocket boosters spun away in a mad, spinning panic. Even as a first grader, I knew something had gone terribly wrong.
Just weeks before the explosion, I recall visiting a space museum and actually seeing moonrocks. The idea of traveling through space was fascinating. The stars seemed closer. But, it all was so surreal at the same time. The stars weren't closer and the moon was a million miles away. How could this paradox be?
I had not yet gotten used to the split custody between my parents - Dad on the weekends, Mom
on the weekdays. Holidays were negotiable. There was fighting and yelling. Sometimes I wondered if the Moon was such a bad place to live.
Watching what remained of Challenger get reclaimed by the force of gravity, I realized that the Moon was too far away. I experienced my first taste of cynicism. I knew that the tragic was the real.
A year later, my mother passed away. Even as a second grader, I knew something had gone terribly wrong. The Moon was too far away, and outer space was something beyond my reach. All kids have wild hopes and dreams, but at that time, it seemed like mine were descending in a million burning pieces back to the ground.
When did you have your first experience with "gravity?" When did life reclaim your stratospheric hopes or dreams? What was that like? Have you changed since then?