I started out to write a blog post this morning about the Merritt Island National Wildlife refuge when I was reminded that today is the 27th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. I guess in a roundabout way, the two things are connected, but I felt the need to mark this day, which I’ve largely ignored in the past, with others.
My story of where I was is different than most of the nations. I’m a child of the space coast. I remember, even though I was around 5, that our area code was still 407, the same as Orlando, and if we needed to call Titusville or Palm Bay that it was long distance. I also remember that a big day of shopping was going to Melbourne, a drive that seemed to take forever.
I was a Kindergardner I think, in Mrs. Roberts class, at Cocoa Beach Christian School at the First Baptist Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida. My mom worked at the hospital, and my dad, and some of my other family members worked at Kennedy Space Center in various capacities. I’d seen launches before. They were still pretty new at that time, and it was a HUGE deal for everyone here. Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, everything stopped for at least 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after. This day was no different. Our entire school, which probably consisted of 30 students, marched across A1A to the beach crossover. We often did that for other reasons like PE or science. We all held hands to cross the street and stood there watching over the ocean for the trail that meant the shuttle had launched. I remember seeing it, and I remember the teachers saying how it wasn’t supposed to curl around the way it did. I think the teachers were in shock as we quickly walked back, after that it’s all a blur. I don’t know what discussions went on, I’m not sure if I stayed at school that day, all I know, is that it must have been emotional, because only those things stick or are removed completely from your memory.
Strangely enough, I remember the news stories about how people were gathering parts of the shuttle, and astronauts off the beaches. I remember some people kept them, and later faced penalties. I think my friend telling me he found a foot was probably the worst part. I also remember conversations about the emergency evacuation hatch and how it was mostly for onlookers, as no one ever really expected that if there was an event like this the astronauts even had a chance.
Later on in life, like a few years ago, I actually got to work at the space center too. I walked in the VAB and up the levels, walked out on the platform to the entry hatch and saw what was designated as the emergency hatch. It was only then that I truly realized how true that might be. To me, it seems that unless the shuttle was in orbit, or stable, there was no way anyone could come out of there. I think about it sometimes and wonder if maybe it really was just a decoration. The good news is that the Astronauts, all of them who have perished, had to have known this before hand. They were willing to go the distance with little hope of surviving if something went wrong on liftoff. Good news? Well, that may be an overstatement. But to me, it means they died fulfilling a wish they knew might have fatal consequences, they died doing what they loved.
In remembrance of all the Astronauts who have perished on the launchpad and in the sky…
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