i touch the future. i teach.

twenty-five years ago today, i was sitting in mr. quincy’s fifth grade class. on a media cart at the front of the classroom was a television broadcasting the launch of the space shuttle challenger, carrying it’s crew of seven. among them was christa mcauliffe, who was to be the first teacher in space.

in an instant, the image of the shuttle was replaced with plumes of smoke and falling debris. the classroom went silent.

in those first moments, i don’t think anyone understood what was happening. i kept waiting for the parachutes. they never came.

i remember walking home from the bus stop later that day and looking up at the sky. as a child who wanted to be an astronaut and a teacher, that day changed my life. i followed the aftermath with intense interest — the recovery, the tributes, the funerals, the investigation. i needed to know how, and perhaps more importantly to a child of ten, WHY this happened.

i don’t know that the answers really ever came. lost somewhere in the talk of sub-freezing temperatures, and o-rings and miscommunications were the dreams of a child. i was touched by tragedy that day, and for perhaps the first time in my life, i was truly afraid. and so i wept for the loss of those seven astronauts, and for the lesson plans that would never be carried out in space, and for the youth of our nation, who, like me, would have to grow up with a little less magic in their world.

today, as i have every january 28th, i pause to remember.

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—wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence. hov’ring there,
i’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
my eager craft through footless halls of air….

up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
i’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
where never lark nor even eagle flew—
and, while with silent lifting mind i’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand, and touched the face of god.

(j.g. magee, jr)

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