I watched this live in my fourth grade class 30 years ago.


A couple of selfish observations: the Challenger tragedy came up in two work-related projects later in my life. The first was interviewing a physician who oversaw the healthcare of astronauts when they returned to Earth. In the video above, you can hear that contingency operations went into effect almost immediately after the explosion. This physician would be in charge of getting out to the wreckage almost as soon as possible. If the mission had been successful, he would have been there to welcome them after landing, and helped their bodies adjust from zero-gravity of space back to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The second was proofreading a book written by a grief counselor for teachers of bereaved students. Mostly it was about recognizing the signs of bereavement, how to tell between grief and depression, and the most common kind of losses children face. There also was a section about national disasters. I vividly remember being horrified watching the launch as it happened, but I don’t recall what my teacher said afterward. I wasn’t able to appreciate until working on this project what a challenge it must have been for her to explain what happened and to comfort us.

I’ve mostly thought about the Challenger tragedy in terms of how it affected me, but the shuttle program has all been shut down today. A Facebook friend today argued that the launch should have been delayed, mostly because a series of rings surrounding the rocket boosters had never been used in temperatures as cold as it was that morning. NASA faced political pressure from the White House because President Reagan had planned to tout the mission in his State of the Union address that night. He had to make a very different kind of speech instead.

Today, private companies are the ones who seem most interested in taking humans to space (I’m not talking about the International Space Station). Compared with other fields of science, federally funded aeronautics seems to have petered out.


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