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February 1st, 2003

Space Shuttle

Been thinking a lot about 1986 today, for obvious reasons. When the Challenger exploded, I was a 15-year-old 11th grader, sitting in my photography class (which was second period, if I remember correctly). Our teacher was a NASA nut, and so he had reserved the A/V equipment for the morning, and we were all watching the take-off on the tv. My first thought when I saw the smoke was, "Was that supposed to happen?" None of us immediately realized that something had gone wrong.

In the days following, I compiled a scrapbook of articles about the Challenger disaster (which I still have). Christa McAuliffe's death really affected me, because I was planning to become a teacher myself, and when I was a child I had wanted to be an astronaut. I had been following her progress toward the mission with great interest. Also, one of my favorite teachers that year had also applied to fill that space on the mission, the first teacher in space. That somehow made it all more personal for me.

Today's disaster did not feel as personal. After 9/11, this seemed relatively innocuous. As I mentioned to Shannon, everyone in every job makes mistakes; unfortunately, at NASA, their mistakes frequently result in deaths. But there's no way to eliminate all possible mistakes. More people die in many car accidents than died in Space Shuttle Columbia. I'm not trying to downplay the astronauts' deaths, because all such deaths are unfortunate, but I don't see it as a huge horrible tragedy. Maybe that means I'm cold. I don't know.

I must admit that my immediate concern was for NASA. My immediate gut reaction was fear that the space program would receive harsh criticism and possible loss of funding.

I find myself wondering if that 15-year-old kid in 1986 has become a jaded 32-year-old woman who doesn't even flinch when people die.

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