On this day, 25 years ago, the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded over the eastern seaboard of Florida. Fiery debris littered the Atlantic ocean while vapor trails and curling smoke crisscrossed the otherwise clear, baby blue sky.
Even though I lived in south Florida, I could see the shuttles arch high in the sky mere moments after launch. That day was no different. I was driving down the highway on my way to work. The radio blared with the launch countdown and I carefully watched over the ridge of the dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. I saw the marshmallowy trail and at the moment the fuel boosters should've separated I watched everything spiral out of control, like the inward workings of a clock that had sprung apart. I'd seen all the shuttle launches from the little town where I grew up. None had ever looked like that. Something went wrong. I knew it. I felt it.
Dead silence fell over the radio. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing but dead silence.
Once I made it to work, the televisions that normally showed the closed circuit cameras feed were all tuned to the news channels. The announcer confirmed what I had known in my heart. The Challenger had exploded. I knew there would be no survivors. No one could've survived that kind of catastrophe at that altitude.
It was the first National disaster that I remember. Mind-numbing. Breath-stealing. Heart wrenching. We were all affected. One Nation in mourning for our heroes: Commander Francis Scobee, 46; pilot Michael Smith, 40; Judith Resnik, 36; Ronald McNair, 35; Ellison Onizuka, 39, Gregory Jarvis, 41; and Christa McAuliffe, 37.
Today I remember them again and think of the progress we've made with the International Space Station and the sacrifices that got us there. But priorities change with time.
Living closer to the Space Coast than I did in 1986, I'm more aware of the perilous politics surrounding the space program in Central Florida. Shuttles are scheduled for retirement without replacements. Funding is strained and thinning. NASA--once a shining star, has lost it's luster in these economically depressed times.
My hope is that our country will one day experience a renewed passion for space exploration. With it comes a sense of wonderment, the vastness of endless possibilities, and the hope for a better future for all generations. I believe those dreams are what the Challenger heroes held in their hearts as the launched into history.
God speed, Challenger crew. Though you rest in peace, we have not forgotten you.
Do you remember where you were when the Challenger was lost?