On this day in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after launch. All seven members of the crew were lost: Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.
The Challenger disaster had a disproportionate effect on young people in the United States because crew member Christa McAuliffe was the first “Teacher in Space,” scheduled to broadcast classroom lessons from earth orbit. Tens of thousands of school children across the country watched the launch on live TV and saw the explosion as it happened.
We mark the Challenger anniversary each year with two readings that you may like to share with your students. The first is John Masefield’s famous poem “Sea Fever.”
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
The second, from the film Chariots of Fire, is the dinner speech given by the master of Caius College at Cambridge University to the college’s new students in 1919, just after the end of World War I.
“I take the war list and I run down it. Name after name, which I cannot read, and which we who are older than you cannot hear, without emotion; names which will be only names to you, the new college, but which to us summon up face after face, full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigor, and intellectual promise; the flower of a generation, the glory of England; and they died for England and all that England stands for.
“And now by tragic necessity their dreams have become yours. Let me exhort you: examine yourselves. Let each of you discover where your true chance of greatness lies.
“For their sakes, for the sake of your college and your country, seize this chance, rejoice in it, and let no power or persuasion deter you in your task.“
Roger, go at throttle up.