Twenty-nine years ago today, I was a young Air Force second lieutenant attending the Public Affairs Officer Course at the Defense Information School, then located at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. During a break from morning classes, I gathered with a dozen or so of my classmates from the Army, Navy and Marine Corps in front of a breakroom television to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger launch. Back then, shuttle launches were still big events. None of us imagined what would happen before our eyes.
Seventy-three seconds after launch, the shuttle exploded in flight high above the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Fla., killing all seven crew members — including the nation’s first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.
Later that day, President Ronald Reagan spoke to the nation during a televised address that ended with the following words:
“There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, ‘He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.’ Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.
“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and ’slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.’”
It was a day, much like April 19, 1995, and Sept. 11, 2001. Days I will never forget.
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