Reasoning with Madness
"This is a barbaric yawp, and it will be sounded over the roofs of the world."
There are certain days in history that people never forget. We remember everything about what we were doing when it happened. These days that live in infamy. The Attack on Pearl Harbor. The Moon Landing. The Assassination of JFK. 9/11.
30 years ago today was another one of these moments in history, frozen forever. Seven astronauts, including a school teacher, died as The Challenger Space Shuttle exploded upon liftoff from one of the most prominent space missions since Apollo went to the moon. Millions watched across the nation and gasped in horror as it became clear that something...has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
I was in the 4th grade, watching it live on the TV that was wheeled into class. Living in Florida, we usually didn't watch all of these space shuttle flights as they were pretty common. I was always more excited when the shuttles were returning home. You always knew the astronauts had come back to earth because the classic sonic boom would hit as the shuttle would come back into the atmosphere, shaking everything in it's wake...houses, the ground, trees, it was like a bomb going off right next to you. The force of the sonic boom was tremendous. Sometimes you would get 2 or 3 waves in a row. And after you checked your pants, you knew "the astronauts were back." As a star wars/trek/space nerd, I loved it. I'll never forget the trips to Cape Canaveral as a kid. Back then, it seemed most of us wanted to be an astronaut.
But for many, all that changed 30 years ago today. As we all know now, this flight was different. The Challenger launch was going to be shown to students across the country. It was a massive event. They had Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher, on board who was going to teach the very first lesson from space. My parents still have the original lesson copy that she was going to teach. I found it in deep storage a few years ago and was blown away it even existed, let alone in my parent's storage sheds.
Of course, as we all know now, that never happened. I remember seeing it explode, and I knew immediately what happened. Some of the kids were crying, but most of us were just in shock. There was a silence in the room. We all knew what just happened. But our 4th grade minds weren't fully prepared for what it all meant as we watched that V-shaped cloud form in the sky just after the explosion. I had hoped they didn't all die, even though I was sure they just did, and of course later we learned that they did. I remember our teacher simply turning the TV off and tried to explain it, tried to write it off, before just moving on. I think she let us all go to recess to "play it off". It seemed most kids were over it by the end of the day. But it was a heavy reality check for me. That even the astronauts can die. All day long, I just remember wanting to go home to watch the news to see what happened, to see if they were OK. I needed to know more. How did it happen? Why? Didn't they check everything? I needed to know everything. I needed peace of mind. I was consumed by this tragedy. Of course, we didn't have the internet then so information was hard to come by, especially for an 8 year old.
Eventually though, I found peace with it all. I remember some grown up telling me that any time we are trying to test the limits of our reality, any time we are pushing the boundaries of our curiosity, there was always the possibility of failure. And that's what happened here. Human kind doesn't always get it right. Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we fail. And sometimes people are willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, to take humanity further than it has ever gone before. From that point of view, I realized that instead of a tragedy, this was a lesson. Be brave and push yourself farther than you're comfortable with. Be willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Explore as much as possible. Never stop being curious. These great space explorers, who never got a chance to finish the mission taught me more than all the astronauts combined. We tend to learn not from triumph, but tragedy. We evolve only after we fall. The seven astronauts who died on this day were some of the bravest people who ever lived. And that we should all remember their bravery, their ultimate sacrifice, and try to embrace that type of existence every single day that we are blessed to be alive. We should all be willing to test the limits of our reality to learn as much as we possibly can. Because the only limits are the ones we impose upon ourselves.
#challenger #spaceshuttle #heroes
Who Am I?
I am Ahab.