Nationally shared moments come along and you’re pretty sure that you, along with a good chunk of humanity, will remember where you were When You Heard Something Had Happened.
It was (an impossible, it seems) 37 years ago last Friday — January 28, 1986 — that the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster happened, 46,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Coast at Cape Canaveral. It was 10:30 CST, a cold-for-Florida (36 degrees) and clear Tuesday, and classrooms across America, maybe the world, were tuned in because this mission carried Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from New Hampshire and the first teacher in space.
So millions at the same time were trying to process what they were seeing when Challenger basically exploded just more than a minute after takeoff, everyone on the ground looking up and so many more looking at televisions that seemed to show a giant white expanding ginger root punching in different directions through the bright blue sky.
Where were you that morning?
I asked a new friend named Dan that this weekend — he was on a service call and hooking a piece of equipment to my television to transform it from a Dumb TV to a Smart TV — and he looked at me liked I’d asked him where he was during the Battle of the Bulge. “I wasn’t born yet,” he said.
Oh. Yeah … Well …
I asked him if he could hook a piece of equipment to me to turn me from Dumb to Smart.
“I wish,” he said.
Dude’s like 26, or my age when the Challenger Disaster happened. I was one of the last Americans to know, is probably why I remember so well. I’d worked really late as usual at the newspaper, stumbled into 222 Lake Street in Shreveport a couple hours after noon. Lots of Space Shuttle news on the televisions, I thought. And then … Ohhhhhh…
The tragedy’s cause — excuse this over-simplification — was that these things called O-Rings hadn’t properly sealed, due to their imperfections and the cold weather, and gas had escaped and there you go.
Awful. And yes, a lot of people got in trouble.
Now, this next one, more of you can get in on the Where Were You? game, (even young Dan).
It was 20 years ago — February 1, 2003 — that a space tragedy happened much closer to home when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered the atmosphere over East Texas and, well, over us. The crew of seven was lost. A piece of foam that broke off during ascent and hit and damaged the thermal protection system tiles on the shuttle’s left wing was the cause of the disaster when the spacecraft tried to return home.
February 1, 2003 was a Saturday, another gorgeous winter day, clear skies. I went the paper about 8:30 to do a little work. Just tie up some loose ends. (I was conscientious back then.) Had a tee time at 10:30. Perfect day.
Until it wasn’t.
The disaster began to unfold around 8 a.m. our time, but the Internet and all that was a thing still getting its footing. When I walked in, a couple of friends were already working on rumors. We had one computer that was hooked to the Internet — and NOT the Internet you know today.
All the TVs were on but things were still sketchy. Hard to believe 20 years later that the world then did not have instant information but … it didn’t.
Compared to now, it was archaic. But the feelings were the same. The finding out. The discoveries. The slow unfolding. Talking to people who had found things that had fallen from the sky.
You remember? Remember where you were?
Long day and heartsick. Hope today is memorable, but for much better reasons.
Contact Teddy at email@example.com or Twitter @MamaLuvsManning