Challenger

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:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/01/28/how-ronald-reagan-explained-the-challenger-disaster-to-the-world-its-all-part-of-taking-a-chance/

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.

9 thoughts on “Challenger

  1. Like Pepperidge Farms, we remember.
    Christa McAuliffe was a teacher from Concord, a school about 30 minutes from where I lived.
    Watching the takeoff and subsequent explosion from TV in class… not a good moment.

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  2. Like you said…it was so common place back then but the teacher onboard made it special…I remember watching it…it was snowing here and too bad to get to work. When watching it you didn’t know anytihng was terribly wrong at first but then it became clear…terrible time.

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  3. I was a sophomore in college (age 19) when it happened. I remember it clearly. I had just returned home from classes and turned on the TV to watch the launch…an old, huge console TV. I was living in an apartment complex with my mother. I never even sat down. I stood in the middle of the room, watching it launch. When the explosion happened, I literally could not wrap my head around what I was seeing. I remember thinking to myself “what about the people inside?” I just couldn’t grasp, at that moment, that…they were all dead. I was in such shock, my brain would not compute. I was still standing in the middle of the room, not moving, for an hour afterwards. I finally sat down on the couch and watched the reports.

    I was living in Texas when the Columbia exploded, leaving a trail of debris all across the state. That one broke my heart, too but, I was of the age that the shock was less. I still went back to 1986 and to that day.

    You know…you are the only blogger I have seen mention it. And, I don’t recall any news outlets covering this.

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    1. I guess it wasn’t a “milestone” anniversary. I did see a couple local news sites write quick blurbs about it. Might have been on MSN, too.
      Prior to 9/11, this was my “JFK assassination.”

      I vaguely remember Columbia, but I do remember how pieces of it were falling across the country.

      I was going to write about something else, and when I saw the story online, I remembered our concert.

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