Stranger Fruit

In memoriam

i-45d02d4d8a391fe1e9dbe37999641cc7-480_Challenger Crew.jpg

In memory of those that slipped the bonds of Earth on this day in 1986.

I was a freshman in college. The flight started at 11:08 EST – just after four in the afternoon in Ireland – and I remember watching the launch on CNN which was the only channel that was showing the event live.

Here James Oberg demolishes seven myths about the Challenger tragedy – including the idea that millions of people saw the “explosion” (and the reason for quotes will become obvious if you read the article) live on television. While some of Oberg’s points were not news to me, I had not realized that the “[t]he flight, and the astronauts’ lives, did not end at that point, 73 seconds after launch. After Challenger was torn apart, the pieces continued upward from
their own momentum, reaching a peak altitude of 65,000 ft before arching back down into the water. The cabin hit the surface 2 minutes and 45 seconds after breakup, and all investigations indicate the crew was still alive until then.”


  1. #1 John Marley
    January 28, 2007

    I was in 8th grade. I remember it well. I had a teacher that year who had been fairly close to being selected for that flight.

  2. #2 Mike Kaspari
    January 28, 2007

    Sometimes I find the actions of “NASA the bureaucracy” to be pretty over the top. But having grown up in the sixties, the astronauts have always been my heroes and the reason that many of us do science.

  3. #3 Ms. S
    January 29, 2007

    I recall being in elementary school (3rd grade) and although I’ve always remembered that we weren’t watching it on TV (contrary to the myth mentioned above), I do remember our teacher telling us what had happened shortly afterward. He cried. It was the first time I’d ever seen a grown-up man cry, and I knew that this was a huge deal.
    It made me want to be an astronaut. Unfortunately my crappy eyesight and shortness ruled that out pretty quickly – so instead I became a science teacher who works the space program into her lessons whenever possible. It’s a good second choice.

  4. #4 J Milde
    January 30, 2007

    I was in the third grade, and my reading class had made a trip to the school library. As we sat in a circle reviewing our newly checked out books (perhaps a Beverly Cleary masterpiece), another teacher walked in and turned on a television stored in the corner. She was crying, which gave a sense of foreboding to the images we were about to see. I have no recollection of how I felt watching Dan Rather narrate the explosion, but I did recognize that the crying teacher’s emotion may have been tied to the fact that one of the astronauts aboard was also a teacher.

    Thinking back to that memory, several things strike me as interesting:

    1. Much like September 11th, the primary networks broadcast the events over and over again. The regular TV schedule was almost entirely suspended. CNN was not available in my small Missouri hometown, yet we experienced the numbing around the clock coverage.
    2. Our teachers let us watch it all day long. We were about 9 years old, and little effort was made to shield us from the horrors. If CBS was going to air analysis of the accident, the teachers must have assumed it was better (more intriguing?) material than they had planned for the day. Any real emotion I might have had was buried underneath a hundred kiddie theories on what happened, all shared passionately with my friends. I doubt if this could happen today.
    3. Despite the downer aspect of the event, interest in space and science did grow in me and the rest of my class. It reminds me of the current day where more and more students are enrolling in Islamic studies or Arabic, or my own consideration of applying to the Foreign Service. Today, this instinctual resilience strikes me as a very American reaction to loss.

    Thanks for the post.

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