January 28, 1986.
I was home sick that day. Strep throat. Age 10.
I curled up in our recliner, and turned on the TV, attempting to stay warm under a blanket on that unusually cold morning, even for January. Most kids my age would have been watching cartoons. Not me. I went directly to the news to watch the launch. I wanted to watch that beautiful crew of 7 heroes who had captured my imagination, ingress. One by one I saw them get their final check with the launch team, and enter the shuttle through that doomed door. I still remember seeing that door sealed, their fate in the thousands of hands of men and women guiding them on their mission.
My mom had been in the kitchen, making me soup and tea to soothe my throat. I called her to the room. After some delay, it was time for the launch.
I sat waiting for that countdown, 10-9-8-7-main engine start 6-5-4-3-2-1.
And with that, the shuttle was off the ground. I sat, listening intently to the exchange between launch control and mission control, the exchange between mission control and Challenger. I was riveted. This mission was special. It was a mission specifically dedicated to capturing the hearts and minds of the youth, for bringing space and science directly to kids in the lessons of the first Teacher in Space.
I was all in.
Then, everything changed. The explosion, which I first thought was the rocket booster separation, cause the shuttle to skew in a weird angle. Something was wrong.
My mom dropped the bowl of soup.
I didn’t know what to do, what to think. My mom insisted we turn off the coverage as hot tears fell down my face. No, I insisted. I needed to know. I needed to watch.
In the hours that followed, we learned more about the fate of that magnificent 7.
Jan 28th, 1986 was a day changed the trajectory of my life. It is because of the crew that I took astronomy in high school. It is because of these heroes, I majored in geology and astronomy. It is because of these scientists, engineers, pilots, and educators that I became and Earth and Space Science Teacher. It is why I attended Space Camp for Educators. It is why I make an immersive STEAM education for all students a priority.
It is in their honor I work to open this center.
The crew of STS -51L is never far from my thoughts. Today I honor them and their families.