Today is the 25th anniversary of the loss of the crew of the space shuttle Challenger, and it's an anniversary that I have privately marked every year since the tragedy occurred.
It's amazing to me that 73 seconds can change a life, change someone's outlook, and create memories that last a lifetime. When I was ten years old, 73 seconds found me witnessing the death of another human being. It was the dream of a little boy to reach for the stars, to go to space and look down upon the earth. I dreamed about it. I watched the shuttle launches.
On the day of this particular launch, I sat in front of a television with all my third grade classmates to watch the New Hampshire teacher bring space right to our very classroom. I was so excited, and remember staring at the television, completely transfixed with anticipation.
When the engines lit, my heart raced and we all cheered. When the shuttle cleared the launchpad, we all clapped. What happened next hushed the room like a forest covered in thick snow. Nobody spoke. I heard one of the teachers gasp. My heart sank. Someone turned off the television, and we resumed our normal class schedule. I could not focus, though, as all I could think of were white smoke trails across a blue sky.
I remember sobbing for three days straight. My dream to visit space someday was shattered, and I was acutely aware of the deaths of those astronauts, and that hurt the most. President Reagan's now famous speech made me weep as if my own family had been lost.
"We will never forget them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."
25 years later, hearing that speech and watching video of Challenger's demise still brings tears to my eyes.
The loss of Challenger and her crew taught me the meaning of true courage; the strength to follow your dreams, despite the risks that may exist. This final lesson that Christa McAuliffe imparted on me is a lasting legacy as a teacher, and one that I shall carry with me all my life.