In 1986, I was an extremely impressionable nine-year-old boy in the fourth grade. Like everyone my age at that time, I was obsessed with space. I loved Star Wars, E.T., and the Pigs In Space segment of The Muppet Show. I had NASA themed LEGO's, dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween, and a poster of the Space Shuttle on my wall. I would stare at that poster and dream of the future when I could live on Mars or be an astronaut. Every year, I begged my parents to pay for me to Space Camp.
I'll never forget the day that my teacher wheeled a steel cart with squeaky wheels into my classroom of thirty kids. The cart was carrying a large television. As she centered it at the front of the room and turned the dial to the proper channel, she announced that we would watch the Space Shuttle launch. My teacher asked if we knew why this was a special Shuttle launch, and I quickly raised my hand to inform the class that it was because a teacher was going to space.
All 62 eyes in that room were focused on the screen when the Challenger left the launch pad. Seeing the Shuttle take off never got old for kids in those days, but after that day, it would never be the same. It was that day that I experienced tragedy for the first time.
January 28, 1986, the day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all flight crew members. As a kid with Attention Deficit Disorder, I was never speechless. I would often break up awkward moments in school with a funny one-liner, but I had nothing to say. I couldn't speak if I wanted to. The classroom was filled with a kind of silence that you don't ever want to hear. Total shock and disbelief on the faces of thirty kids and a teacher who couldn't find the words to say to comfort her students or herself.
Almost forty years later, that day is featured with the new Netflix documentary, Challenger: The Final Flight. I've learned so much from watching the limited series. It introduced me to an Idahoan that could have easily been aboard that flight.
Christa McAuliffe was the teacher selected to be aboard Challenger's flight that day. Thousands of teachers applied, that list was narrowed to ten and then to two. The second teacher would serve as the backup to McAuliffe. That second teacher was Barbara Morgan, a second-grade teacher from McCall-Donnelly Elementary in McCall. Had Christa McAuliffe felt sick that morning or just decided that she was too afraid to go, Barbara Morgan would have been on the Challenger that day.
Her dream to go to space didn't end. Twelve years later, she was selected to be an astronaut candidate and, eventually, an astronaut! She was on a mission to help assemble the International Space Station in 2007. She has a quote posted on a plaque at Disney World's Mission: Space. She worked for NASA until 2008 when she left to teach at Boise State. Now, she even has an elementary school named after her in McCall.
My dreams of living on Mars never came true. I never became an astronaut and could never get my parents to send me to Space Camp. It's cool to know that a real-life astronaut lives among us in the Treasure Valley.