Like most Americans, I remember quite vividly watching the Challenger disaster on television. I don’t think I watched it live, but of course it was on every channel within minutes of the explosion. I had two connections to this event, one from the past and one in the future. 8 months before the Challenger disaster, during spring break in my senior year in high school, I was at the Kennedy Space Center and got to watch the shuttle Discovery launch into space. It was an incredible thing to watch, and I’d been prepared for it by a song.
One of my all time favorite bands, Rush, has a song on the Signals album called Countdown. The song was written after they were invited to watch the launch of the first space shuttle flight in 1981, and in concert when they performed the song they had the video of that launch on a huge screen behind them as they played. The song captures the feel of such an event perfectly. So when I got the chance to see it launch in person, I jumped at it and drove several hours from my mom’s house in Sebring to Kennedy to see it go up. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. And with that experience so fresh in my mind, watching the shuttle explode was particularly jarring.
The future connection was many years away. When I first became involved with Papa John’s Pizza back in the early 90s (I was an area supervisor for several years for a franchisee), I became good friends with another supervisor named Steve Feldberg. His mother, it turns out, was a teacher and she was the runner up to Christa McAuliffe in the competition to go on the shuttle. It could very easily have been his mom dying in that disaster.
There’s no doubt that, for my generation, there are two equivalents to the “where were you when Kennedy was assassinated” question from my parents’ generation. One is the space shuttle explosion; the other, obviously, is the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. Both are burned in our memories forever.