..To Touch the Face of God

Thirty years ago I was working at KLTY radio in Dallas Texas. This was the day the shuttle was to launch with school teacher Christa McAuliffe. I had gotten wrapped up in my job when I realized I had forgotten the launch, so I went in to the news room at 10:45 to catch up on the event. The television was on but there was only a static shot of the ocean and no anchor chatter, silence. The AP wire began to print and I leaned over to read:"the space shuttle Challenger has been successfully launched into space, carrying New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe and 6 other astronauts".

I thought to myself, if it launched okay, why isn't it on television? I was unaware that I had just read a canned story set to send after the launch (at 10:42 am). I turned to the tv, no dialog, ocean shot, a coast guard helicopter passes through, it was eerie. Then, a ten bell alarm came from the AP machine. I had never heard one before and that's why I remember it so well. The teletype resumed, coldly stating:

"Nasa" says the vehicle has exploded." Now the image on tv made more sense, but what were they looking at? It was a long time before they showed a replay of the launch, maybe because there was discussion of it being too graphic? I'll never forget that feeling of helplessness and frustration, turning to sadness. I went home early and stared at the news channels for the rest of the night, including Reagan's wonderful speech.



"Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering. Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss. Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we've never lost an astronaut in flight; we've never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we've forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together. For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we're thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, ``Give me a challenge, and I'll meet it with joy.'' They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us. We've grown used to wonders in this century. It's hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We've grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we've only just begun. We're still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers. And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle's takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them. I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute. We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue. I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: ``Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.'' 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 an 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 goodbye and ``slipped the surly bonds of earth'' to ``touch the face of God.'' 

Thirty years later, it still hurts. You'll never know when your loved one will be taken from you in a flash. Love them while they're here. And take lots of pictures, someday it may be the only thing you have left.