I had just started my career as a Corporate Paralegal on the island of Palm Beach. Twenty five years ago today there was excitement in the air as everyone was anticipating the Challenger Space Shuttle launch.
At the time of the launch everyone gathered in the Senior Attorney’s office to watch the big event – we had a clear view out over the Atlantic Ocean and there was a bright blue sky that day. As we stood silently watching history in the making, we had no idea the horrific history that was about to be made. I remember watching in awe, the strong straight plum of smoke and the tiny dot that was the shuttle blasting up into the sky and thinking about Christa McAuliffe and what must be going through her “normal school teacher” mind. Then suddenly the smoke screwed off in a few different directions and the smoke was no longer a straight line.
There were audible gasps from the rest of my co-workers as they had watched the shuttle take off from the exact same location many times and they knew something had gone terribly wrong. I remember asking, “Is it not supposed to look like that? Did something go wrong.” At about that same time telephones from all through the office began to ring and the assembled crowd scattered. I recall hearing further gasps, several muffled oh no’s and crying.
I rushed to my office and called my husband, at the time he worked for Pratt and Whitney, a jet engine manufacturer, and he knows just about all there is to know about aviation. He didn’t answer.
Suddenly the office became quiet and still. Everyone just left.
I kept trying to call Bill and when I finally reached him he sounded pretty gruff. It was obvious to me something was terribly wrong and knew exactly what had happened…something I didn’t grasp until that night when I got home from work and watched the news and heard the speculation. And then he told me the stark reality of just what I had witnessed that day.
The next morning all of Highway 95 was a blaze with headlights. The local news media had asked us all to drive with our headlights on in memory of the astronauts. It was pretty much all anyone could talk about.
The day of the Challenger explosion and days after that all I could think about was that a regular woman, who was a teacher, was on that flight. She was dead, her children had no mother, her husband no wife. That’s not what she signed up for – it was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime, not the end of her life. It was heartbreaking as the news showed over and over the look on her parents face as they sat in the bleachers during take off and slowly the reality of what had just occurred became apparent to them. It was awful.
I did a lot of praying for Christa’s family, her students and all of those astronauts and their families. It was an honor to do the same for them again today.
I was just remembering today…and wanted to share with you.