The nation buzzed about the prospect of sending the first civilian up in space - Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire.
Several of Maple Dale Elementary's 3rd Grade classes converged on a common space to watch the liftoff, scheduled for a chilly morning in January.
I was excited about space travel.
Years later I would discover that math and science were my weaker subjects, but at a bright-eyed nine years old, I was enamored with the idea of being an astronaut.
We watched the final preparations at Cape Canaveral. Then the countdown and liftoff.
The rocket propelled into the wild blue yonder, traveling at a speed likely matching the racing pulse of my little heart.
A giant, wormy cloud spread out across the screen, nebulous parts glowing with traces of fiery orange. As children, we had no idea what was going on, and began cheering at an occurrence we thought was SOP.
The room quickly dispersed, and knowing my teacher (and her lack of aptitude for anything challenging or involving depth), there was no discussion of the morning's events.
A school bus ride later, I made it home to my mom and younger sister, who was recovering from some minor surgery. My mother, a very grave expression washed across her face, pulled a television into Brigid's room so we could watch Tom Brokaw explain the latest information as she cradled my sick sister.
I think I still bubbled with excitement, not knowing seven people had lost their lives on the Challenger. Mom's gentle but serious tone explained to me this was a very sad day and likely something I'll never forget.
She was right.
For months, I clipped every. single. story. about the Challenger out of the morning newspaper. My dad gave me a manila folder I used to organize and protect these scraps of newsprint. They were my treasures.
These days, space exploration is something we take for granted, and yet NASA shuttle launches are infrequent occurrences.
I think the Challenger explosion taught me the bravery that comes with facing a mission that threatens one's very existence. The incident no doubt also inspired people around the world to grow more curious about the great beyond.
Thank you to McAuliffe, Smith, Scobee, McNair, Onizuka, Jarvis and Resnik.
May your lives and commitment to space exploration fan the flames of discovery for generations to come.
And may we remain as dedicated to exploring the universe around us as you were in life and death.
Kate's Random Musings by Kate the Great is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.