Updated: Jun 7, 2019
In this episode of I Remember I’m talking about the Space Shuttle Challenger and the moments of connection it has had with me over the course of more than three decades. On that 1986 mission, NASA wanted to find an "ordinary person," a gifted teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit. Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teach from Lanham, Maryland was selected from more than 11,000 applicants. She would be the first teacher in space. Because of this, I and millions of other kids watched this event unfold live. It was exciting to be together, all witnessing the same thing, all feeling the same feeling - joy. The joy of reaching for the stars.
On January 28, 1986, at 11:39 a.m. EST, the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members, including Christa McAuliffe. I remember that time stood still, for what seemed a long time, as we processed what we were seeing and then came together to grieve. Although we often see grief as a bad thing, looking back now I can see that grief as a moment of love. The love we had for each other in that moment, the love we had for the crew who knew the risks that we didn’t and still said yes to the challenge, and the love we had as a nation that bonded us together to honor those heroes.
On the night of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to give his annual State of the Union address. He postponed the State of the Union for a week and instead gave a national address from the Oval office that has since been listed as one of the most significant speeches of the 20th century.
In that speech, even as a high school senior, I remember what he said about pain, and how sometimes pain is a part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. That the future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.
Three days later, he and First Lady, Nancy Reagan traveled to the Johnson Space Center to speak at a memorial service honoring the crew members. At that service, the President stated:
"Sometimes, when we reach for the stars, we fall short. But we must pick ourselves up again and press on despite the pain."
Three decades later, I now can appreciate his words and find peace in them. Our lives are a journey towards fulfillment and on that journey there will be moments of suffering and love, of pain and joy, and of grief and peace. It is how we connect with each other during these moments that matters most on our journey. Because connection is our life’s purpose.
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