Where Were You When?

Memory is funny stuff. My father, in his late 70s, wrote a book-length memoir filled with details of his life and the world he knew growing up in Cajun Louisiana during the Great Depression, in the Army in India during WWII and, finally, raising a family. That's where I came into the picture and it was fascinating how our accounts of those years differ. Not that he got things wrong, just that we noticed such different things.

I suppose that's what makes life so complicated and also so engaging. We're always making sense of things through our private filters, then sharing our perceptions with one another, hopefully not in court.

Even when world-shaking events take place - Kennedy is assassinated, Neil Armstrong steps onto the moon, the World Trade Center collapses - and everyone remembers where they were when they heard or saw the news, there are disagreements, but in those cases there are usually great controversies, rumors of conspiracy.

One notable exception is that moment when the world watched as NASA launched a teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger on a flight to destiny. The shuttle program had become such a routine back then that the launches from Cape Canaveral were barely making the evening news, but the "Teacher in Space" concept had worked its spell. Not only were the eyes of millions of school kids fixed to TV screens that morning, the public was with the program once again. Finally there was someone they could relate to heading for space. After all, how many people know an astronaut, but everyone knows at least a few teachers.

I was watching on a break-room TV in Atlanta. My wife-to-be (she did not know this fate at the time) was across the hall and had to be summoned away from her desk. I knew she had been born at Concord Hospital and that her mom and dad went to Concord High School, so the moment had additional meaning for her.

Both our hearts were pierced by what we saw. My wife was familiar with Christa as a wife and a mom and a daughter, so her thoughts were captive to those raw realities as she dealt with what had unfolded. I, being less empathetic, was just as worried about what this meant to the future of the space program. But for all the unanswered questions that hung in the Florida skies, we both knew what this was: a horrible but simple tragedy. Something went terribly wrong, people died. The results of the investigation were troubling, but they were never seriously questioned, to my knowledge.

Perhaps that same person who attracted the world to the launch was what kept the unhealthy speculations of conspiracists to a minimum. This was not all about power, wealth, prestige or even fame. This was a global tragedy for ordinary people.

In honor of the 25th anniversary of that short, sad flight of the Challenger, we're creating a special web page so you can see some clips and photos and reports we've compiled. There will also be a place you can share your memories of Christa, and tell us where you were when she reached for the stars. Visit www.nhmagazine.com/Christa.

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