Sorry to bring it there, but someone was going to.
The Challenger explosion was my generation's first JFK moment. The imagery was so powerful (and so deeply sad) that everyone I know can answer where they were when they learned of the news. For myself, I took in the experience so deeply that I thought I, too, had watched it live in the classroom. Apparently, as my mom had told me, this wasn't the case.
But, let's back up. I was in 3rd grade when the call came out for the first teacher in space. My teacher, the youngish blusher enthusiast, Mrs. B, entertained the idea of applying. We were all a bit enamored with her, and thought she'd be perfect for the opportunity. A single mom, she cited her daughter as one of the reasons she wasn't applying... but she dreamed with us.
So, January 28, 1986. (which happened to be my brother's 15th birthday). There was a lot of buzz about this one. We learned about Christa McAuliffe in the days and weeks leading up to the flight. A teacher in space! It was so exciting for us, because while astronaut was a lofty goal... teachers were immediate. We knew many of them. We could imagine being them. Our excitement was palpable. Even though I was in 5th grade at this time, I often and immediately thought of Mrs. B.
The tragedy was deeply felt. Heartbreaking. We saw grown ups crying in public, we felt the death of a certain optimism. Later, we all became experts on o-rings and the lives of the astronauts.
Several years later, I wrote a report on the explosion. I got to know the astronauts' lives more intimately, to see how their home communities swelled with pride and, later, grief. How schools and landmarks abounded with their names and likenesses. I grew to admire Mrs. McAuliffe even more, as well as the 6 other crew members, as intrepid explorers and as real people.
As the anniversary passes each year, I do give pause. As I said, it was my brother's birthday, too, so the events are entwined. The sadness that was the other side of the hope.