I was a sophomore in high school 36 years ago. Space shuttle launches were nothing new to me, as they had done 24 launches since 1981. On January 28, 1986, the entire country watched as the first teacher (Christa McAuliffe) was on board. It was a Tuesday and it seemed like every classroom was watching the launch. 73 seconds into the launch, the shuttle exploded. The entire crew was killed.
The footage of the explosion was replayed over and over again as all the major networks did special reports throughout the day. I remember watching the footage live. I recall some silence as the explosion happened and the rocket boosters went off in different directions. I remember the cameras panning the crowd and the looks of horror and sadness on their faces.
I remember watching President Reagan address the nation that evening from the White House. I remember how much that impacted me. He truly was the “Great Communicator”: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’” Here is a wonderful article about that address to the nation:
In band class, we were rehearsing music for our Winter Concert, which was usually in early to mid February. After the Challenger disaster, a new piece of music appeared in our music folders. We probably had less than two weeks to work it up to include it in the concert. It was The Navy Hymn (Eternal Father Strong to Save).
That particular concert was going to be a busy one. Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser was visiting our band and after an extremely powerful two days worth of team building, and leadership lessons was set to conduct a few numbers. A local pastor was there to serve as emcee. A few of the songs on the program were ones that we would work up to take to Band Festival that year. With all of that going on, here was a new piece of music to learn.
We were told by our band director, Tom Shaner, that we were adding it to honor those lost in the Challenger disaster. It was not a difficult piece to play. We were told that our emcee was going to do some sort of narrative over the music as we played the song. Up until a few days before the concert, we had no idea what he was going to say. We brought him in to rehearse the song with us so he could be sure that the timing of it worked out.
I don’t recall what he said word for word, but somewhere I am sure a member of the band had the cassette recording of that concert. I remember it being an very moving tribute. What I remember most was when he read off each of the crew member’s names. Hearing them over the music that we were playing was very emotional for sure. It was the perfect tribute and I doubt there was a dry eye in the auditorium.
I don’t recall if it was the following day, or the following week, but I remember that the pastor who served as our emcee for that show passed away suddenly soon after that concert. It was so sad, but that amazing narrative was saved for many to hear on those cassette tapes. It was a concert I won’t soon forget.