Friday, January 28, 2011

Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion : Painful Wound

Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion : It was shortly before noon on January 28, 1986. President Ronald Reagan was in the Oval Office, preparing for a traditional pre-State of the Union luncheon with television news anchors. Then, as Reagan remembered it, Vice President Bush and National Security Advisor John Poindexter strode into the room with terrible news.“All they could say at the time was that they had received a flash that the space shuttle had exploded,” Reagan said later.A quarter-century later, images of the exploding space shuttle still signify all that can go wrong with technology and the sharpest minds. The accident on Jan. 28, 1986 – a scant 73 seconds into flight, nine miles above the Atlantic for all to see – remains NASA's most visible failure.

It was the world's first high-tech catastrophe to unfold on live TV. Adding to the anguish was the young audience: School children everywhere tuned in that morning to watch the launch of the first schoolteacher and ordinary citizen bound for space, Christa McAuliffe.

She never made it.

McAuliffe and six others on board perished as the cameras rolled, victims of stiff O-ring seals and feeble bureaucratic decisions.It was, as one grief and trauma expert recalls, "the beginning of the age when the whole world knew what happened as it happened."In that flash, US history changed. The space program had suffered its most dire tragedy yet, with its fate perhaps now hanging in the balance. And President Reagan himself – with no warning – faced a pivotal moment of his presidency.By the time the Challenger was getting ready to take off, we had largely become bored with the missions after the initial excitement over their launches. Yawn, ANOTHER shuttle takeoff was about to happen.

Then NASA decided to change everything and send a teacher into space. With the addition of teacher Christa McAuliffe they made a jaded nation care. Care enough to watch every move before the mission. Care enough to chronicle her training activities. Care enough to pack a generation of kids into gyms across the country to watch the shuttle take off live. Care enough to be changed forever by the events we witnessed that morning.

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