Who can forget the moment when the US Space Shuttle CHALLENGER exploded just 73 seconds after lift-off from Cape Canaveral Florida, on January 28th 1986? For those of us around at the time, the news footage images of the horn shaped fireball smoke plume in the sky and the grief-stricken faces of launch watchers are not easily forgotten. I was deeply affected by the incident and the final words of tribute from Ronald Reagan at the time, etched into my memory. His inspirational epitaph was taken from of a poem called “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee Jr. and the words are incredibly poignant. I found them so moving that I even used them in my Mum’s memorial funeral sheet.
The endeavour of space exploration is undoubtedly dangerous, as was known by NASA who lost three crew members aboard Apollo 1 in a ground fire almost twenty years to the day of Challenger (Apollo 1: 27th January 1967). But they had never lost an astronaut in flight before and I believe the Challenger disaster at a stroke, doubled the number of people killed in 25 years of space exploration when all seven crew members perished. This included Christa McAuliffe a school teacher who would have been the first civilian into space. You may not know this, but John Denver the country singer had volunteered for the mission, and after the tragedy wrote a song in memory of those lost. It is called “Flying for Me” and is the last song on the first side of his record album “One World”. After many years of searching I traced the origin of the song and received the album as a Christmas present, some twenty years after the Challenger disaster.
On February 1st 2003 another tragedy befell the Space Shuttle when COLUMBIA disintegrated on re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere killing all seven astronauts. Once again my emotions were deeply touched watching the news, this time knowing the shimmering shards of debris that streaked across the sky represented the extinguishing of life for those brave souls.
During my time broadcasting for hospital radio I have twice been in the studio near the time of these anniversaries. I’ve played the song once and recited the poem once, but this year my show actually falls on the Challenger anniversary. In honour of Christa and her colleagues I will cover both the song and poem together as a small tribute.
You can hear my previous broadcast of both the song and poem (duration 8m 14s) here: https://soundcloud.com/angies_allsorts/remembering-the-space-shuttle-challenger
US Space Shuttle Challenger Crew: Back row (L-R) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik. Front Row (L-R) Michael Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair.