Jan. 28, 1986, was supposed to be just a day home sick from my senior year in high school. Cuddled in my favorite blanket lying on the sofa, I suffered from a nasty cold. My parents were both home that wintry day and decided to join me in the family room to watch TV. My father wanted to watch the Challenger launch on CNN, because this would be a momentous occasion – the day a teacher would join the space shuttle crew.
Both sets of my Italian grandparents instilled an incredible work ethic, and deep admiration for the United States, into my parents. Therefore, my parents worshipped John F. Kennedy, trusted in our government, believed in the education system and instilled in me that hard work equaled a bright future. So when the space shuttle crew incorporated a teacher, Christa McAuliffe, into the mix of astronauts, it was an event my family could not miss.
That morning, we gathered around the television to watch the preparatory work before the flight. My father remarked on the size of the shuttle, the crowd and the smiling, waving astronauts. He was amazed at this moment in history – and that he was alive to see it. With tears in his eyes, he watched the last astronaut enter the shuttle and close the door.
To my father and mother, both born in the 1930s, space exploration was similar to science fiction. But my parents saw the televised account of the walk on the moon, and it impressed them each time our government continued to invest in this venture. My parents left an indelible mark on my intense respect for our space program.
As we know, that day in 1986 was one of the first times we would see horror televised for the American public. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, the shuttle exploded. My parents sat in disbelief, muttering that this couldn’t be happening. I sat in incredulity, wondering what my peers were thinking since at school, we were going to watch the launch live.
I watched as the once cheering crowd huddled, sobbing, and I wondered about the impact that this event would have on millions of Americans. As a family, we hugged and cried over the immense loss of life, and our shaken faith in NASA. This day reminded us of the dangers of space travel.
Later that evening, we, along with millions of others, watched President Ronald Reagan declare that the crew had died on impact of the explosion. He looked shocked and broken-hearted, but his message was one of hope.
No longer were horrible events only for the eyes of those who were there at the scene. Televised news programs brought the event into our living rooms for us to experience – sometimes in real time.
And for that one day in 1986, a day that my family cherished because a teacher was venturing into space, the live streaming of the scene brought us a real time relationship with the crowd, their families and astronauts.
Today, 30 years later, I am a daughter, teacher, wife and mother. I have seen events unfold on TV that have been uplifting, gruesome or terrifying while government leaders later lament the human loss, give gratitude to heroes and provide hope for our future.
As Reagan said, “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted – it belongs to the brave.” Despite what my own children view on TV, I certainly hope they will remember that quote.