Throughout my life I have heard people say that when an event of great historical importance occurs, a person remembers every detail for the rest of their life. My parents remember vividly the day President Kennedy was killed. I never really believed that I would experience anything so important that it would change me forever. The events of January 28, 1986 proved me wrong.
When I was six, my parents decided they needed a change of scenery, so we moved to Titusville, Florida. Only 15 minutes from the space center, it was an interesting place to live. My mom got a job at the center, and we got free passes to see launches. I learned a lot about the space program and must have viewed 15 take-offs. After a while, the excitement wore off and seeing a launch when walking out to get the morning paper was something everyone took for granted. For this reason, we didn't really think too much when we heard about the Challenger launch.
It was just like any other day, until I got to my math class. My friends informed me we were going outside to watch because a teacher, ChristaMcAuliff, was going up. Excited to miss class, we ran outside and stood in the playground waiting for the take-off. My school was so close to the space center we could hear the countdown. I remember getting impatient because they continually started counted and then stopped because something was wrong. Then, finally, the real countdown began: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1- LIFT OFF!
The shuttle rocketed up into the sky at a tremendous speed, as usual, and everyone cheered. Then something went wrong. The shuttle seemed to slow down and was suddenly engulfed in a mass of smoke and flames. I was shocked at first and didn't understand what had happened. When I heard teachers around me let out horrified gasps and begin to cry, it began to sink in. I was too shocked to cry. As I stared at the fireball in the sky, I just stood there on the playground enveloped in my own thoughts. It blew up! I can't believe this. How could something like this happen?
I thought of the children and families of the astronauts and how they must have felt as they watched their loved ones die. I thought of one of the astronauts I knew. His name was Ron and he was my next door neighbor's best friend. I thought of how he used to yell, "Hey, Blondie!" at me whenever he saw me playing in the yard. I remember him taking my brother and me fishing on Saturdays.
He can't be dead. I just saw him two days ago.
Then a woman standing behind me yelled, "Look! Parachutes!" Momentary hope filled me. Then I remembered that the Challenger had not been equipped with parachutes, so that couldn't be possible. My heart was again filled with despair as I realized that what she saw were pieces of debris falling from the sky.
Finally a teacher touched my shoulder and motioned me inside. My classmates and I filed into the classroom without saying a word. There was no sound until the principal came on the intercom and told us we were to be dismissed early. I rode my bike home with my friends as usual. The only difference was the deafening silence. Even the crossing guard who normally joked did not speak. When I arrived home, my brother and father were already there. They were watching television, which kept replaying the horrible incident. I went to my room; I didn't want to see it anymore. One time was bad enough.
I was waiting for my mother to come home from the space center. I wished she would come in and announce that there had been some kind of miracle and the astronauts had survived, but when she walked in with tears streaming down her face, I knew there wasn't going to be any miracle. The Challenger astronauts were gone.
This experience had a great effect on me because I realize I have to live life to the fullest and do my best in everything I do. There may not always be a tomorrow to fix my mistakes. When I thought of the families of the astronauts, it made me appreciate my family and all I have more. I learned not to take things for granted. This experience really changed me as an individual and I know I will never forget anything about that day for as long as I live. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.