Five years ago today, I was asked by the publisher of Aero-News to write about where I was 20 years before. I suspect he asked me this, in part, to take my mind off where I was in the present.
On January 28, 2006 I was three days away from surgery to remove a cancerous tumor that had invaded my body. In between panic attacks, and readying the apartment for my Mom's upcoming (and open-ended) visit, I sat at my computer on a balmy Saturday morning in Dallas, and put together 1,000 words on what I was doing the morning of January 28, 1986... the day we lost the Space Shuttle Challenger.
The resulting op-ed is hardly my best piece of writing. Looking at it now I realize how awkward the transition is from eulogizing the lost crew of STS-51-L, to chastising NASA for allowing much of the same complacency that doomed Challenger to claim another seven lives just over 17 years later. I also see the anger behind my words, the clear resentment I felt on the realization how fates may cruelly turn in an instant. As petty and self-involved as that is, of course I wasn't thinking solely of the lost spacefarers.
"It was the day I first learned that, yes, the sky can fall." That line I'm proud of. The rest, meh. The article ends on a snarky and self-righteous note I'm not particularly proud of, though I think the message still comes through (and, thankfully, seems to have been heeded by NASA based on its cautious but successful performance for the subsequent five years.) Thanks to my state of mind at the time and the rushed nature of the piece on a whole, I even manage to incorrectly ascribe the subsequent loss of Columbia to the wrong year...
Still, overall, it's articles like this one I still look back to, and note with some small sense of accomplishment... because I still vividly remember where both the space agency and I were, five years ago today.
They Were All Teachers