(A momentary diversion from music-related topics)
Can it really be 30 years ago?
Then living in Cocoa Beach, I was driving to work at the Florida Today newspaper office in Melbourne when I saw people gathering to watch the Challenger launch. I stopped at a viewing perch across from Patrick AFB.
As usual, the excitement and anticipation was palpable.
So much elation as the space shuttle launch began, and then, 73 seconds after liftoff … some kind of a flash and those long, white vapor trails. Not sure, momentarily, what was happening. That’s not how it was supposed to look.
Then, dread, and reality began setting in.
“Oh no, no,” said several in the crowd, many of whom were connected in one way or another to the space industry. Some started crying.
Terribly sad — seven astronauts we had come to know, even if from a distance, had just died in front of our eyes.
But there was no time for reflection or mourning. I had a job to do. I grabbed my reporter’s notebook from my back pocket and started interviewing folks.
Recall the poetic remembrance by President Reagan? In a televised speech from the Oval Office, he recalled having watched them “as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
It was Reagan’s idea to send a teacher into space. America had grown to love the friendly, engaging, and, of course, brainy and curious Christa McAuliffe. We were all cheering her on.
At Florida Today, our reporters and editors spent the next few months covering the Challenger disaster. What went wrong? Could anything have prevented the explosion. Did NASA err in going ahead with the launch on that unusually chilly Florida morning, so cold that icicles formed on the launch pad?
I went to Orlando to interview Bruce Jarvis, the father of astronaut Gregory Jarvis, who sat next to McAuliffe in the Challenger. Jarvis, 41, was a payload specialist making his first flight on the space shuttle. We talked O-rings. We talked about his son.
Postscript: Television video of the Challenger’s explosion remains one of the most iconic images of our time, or, at least, of my lifetime, along with that of the falling twin towers of the World Trade Center, destroyed by radical Islamic terrorists on 9/11/01. I won’t live long enough to erase either events from my memory..
(See the footage, and read Florida Today‘s recent story recalling the tragedy, here)