Ronald Reagan may be a controversial figure but let’s set political preferences aside. Today is the 30th anniversary of one of this country’s greatest tragedies. On a cold but sunny, blue-sky day in Florida, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded minutes after take off. The space shuttle that carried the first school teacher to go into space – Christa McAuliffe. The space shuttle with a crew that exemplified America’s diversity – two women, an African American, and a mission specialist from Hawaii. School children across the land were watching the launch – children who will always remember where they were when it happened. The images are haunting – clear blue sky – a billowing gray and white plume of smoke rising straight up from the launch pad, as in so many launches before, until it curved slightly to the right, exploded in a firey ball, split into two gray plumes branching and falling. Something had gone terribly wrong.
It’s hard to look at the picture of the smiling, waving crew as they boarded the shuttle that morning without also picturing the two trailing plumes of smoke 73 seconds after lift-off that meant they were gone. My heart aches thinking about the anguish of the family members watching from the ground below.
I tend to avoid the news – it’s usually depressing. But today I am thankful that my newsfeed from Amazon had this link to an article in the Washington Post. It details the disaster but it also introduces the woman who wrote one of President Reagan’s most remembered speeches. A speech that gave solace and hope to a nation still reeling from the shock and pain of that morning’s events.
In 2000, when my now 26-year old daughter was in fifth grade, each student had to portray a US President. She chose Ronald Reagan. I have a picture of her with her hair pulled back, wearing a suit and tie. It’s easy to forget that the Cold War was a significant factor in international relations when Reagan was in office. She might have chosen the lines – “Mr. Gorbachov – tear down this wall!” from his June 1987 speech at the Brandenburg Gate. But no, she ended her speech, just as he ended his 30 years ago today. A speech that was written by a young speech writer – Peggy Noonan. With lines that were written by an even younger pilot, John Gillespie Magee, who died in an in-flight collision during World War II when he was only 19 years old.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of …
“The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”
Be brave and remember: Ellison Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judy Resnick, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee and Ron McNair