Twenty-nine years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed in a horrific explosion just a minute into their mission. And I have almost no knowledge or memory of what happened after that.
You see, that was the day I joined the US Air Force.
I was in Knoxville TN, at the MEPS station, awaiting time to ship out to San Antonio TX and six weeks of basic military training. I watched the launch, and stepped away to the restroom, returning to the news that Challenger had been destroyed.
A few hours later, I was on a plane to Lackland AFB, and for six weeks, I heard no news about Challenger.
During my basic training, there was flow of news, and that was by design. We were supposed to focus on becoming members of America’s fighting machine. And we did.
In those weeks of isolation, rumors ran rampant among those of us learning to march, shoot and obey orders. The story we heard the most: The Russians. They destroyed Challenger.
I can remember one afternoon when we were in the dorms, and heard the base air raid sirens go off. We began putting mattresses in the windows (as we were instructed to do), until the all clear was sounded. With the heightened rumors about the potential Russian influence, we definitely took the sirens seriously.
Every now and then, we’d find an instructor who would tell us some news of the investigation, which helped squelch the rumors for a while, before they spun up again. It seemed the lack of information was a breeding ground for misinformation.
And now, almost three decades later, I still hear things about the mission and investigation that I’ve never heard before. It’s as though I was in a coma during much of the first quarter of 1986, and occasionally, it’s all new to me.
Today, I won’t get on my soapbox about our country’s seeming lack of dedication to space exploration, and the benefits we’ve garnered from that. I won’t pontificate on my view that we may need a way to escape this planet someday, and might find ourselves with no way out due to shortsightedness.
It’s all about the Challenger astronauts today, and the memory of those souls taken home far too early.