While I was in grade school, I was fascinated by all the current events surrounding the 'space race' where the U.S. and the U.S.S.R were always trying to out-best each other. When my interest peaked, NASA was engaged in Project Mercury from 1959 to 1963. As a twelve year old, I would closely follow the efforts of the space program in my Weekly Reader, a children's newspaper that was used in schools. I would sponge up any information about the Redstone rocket, the Mercury capsule, and Alan Shepard, the first American in space. The fact that I was living in Kittery, Maine and Alan Shepherd was from Derry, New Hampshire, gave me a sense of kinship to the astronaut as a fellow New Englander. Not to mention my cousins also lived in Derry. I remember Derry had the nickname of 'spacetown' and when entering the town, there was a motel that had a rocket as part of it's signage.
As time went by, the programs of NASA became routine news and relatively commonplace. As always happens, if you do something hazardous long enough, something is going to happen. There were a few training jet accidents that led to fatalities in the '60's. Not to minimize those tragedies, the first highly publicized accident took place in January of 1967 when the three astronauts of the Apollo 1 mission were killed inside the capsule during a launch rehearsal. The two space shuttle disasters that followed in 1986 and 2003 were disturbing for me as it lent more reality to me and less fantasy.
In 1986, I was living in Barre, Vermont and my employer was in Concord, New Hampshire, a place I use to commute to regularly for work when I lived in New Hampshire. On January 28th, the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed 73 seconds after take off. All seven of the crew members perished including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher from Concord who was chosen as part of the Teacher In Space Project and would have been the first civilian in space. A sad day when the hopes of doing so many great things on that mission by a very talented crew were lost.
And then in February 2003, the loss of the shuttle Columbia and it's diverse and talented crew when returning from it's mission and being destroyed during re-entry. Too much to take in.
I am sure there were students who were fascinated and captivated by the magic of space travel as I was when I was a kid. During the 39 years of the Space Shuttle Program that fascination certainly continued. However, I can't imagine coping with the fact that my teacher started out on the ride of her life, only to meet death a few moments later.
Nevertheless, our thirst for knowledge and adventure continue on. Better still, instead of competing with Russia, we now share the International Space Station with them. In fact, several countries participate in the program which has been running since 1998 and the station has been occupied for over 12 years. There is a fantastic website here about the station. And you have GOT to see the Take a Tour of the ISS with Suni Williams video. She is the station commander.
Hope you have found this entry interesting. I had fun putting it together and reminiscing and reinforcing the past. What were YOU doing when these events occurred?
The president felt that it was important to send an ordinary citizen to experience the excitement of space travel as a representative for all Americans. - Christa McAuliffe