I was 11 and in 5th grade on a field trip to Chinatown when Katie S. came up to me to announce that Challenger had exploded. I didn't believe her. My group found a TV in a shop or restaurant, I can't recall, and there it was...on TV...the truth...it had.
When we got back to school our teacher had that talk with us. How they were brave, it was risky and she revealed how she almost had applied for the teacher astronaut program. For most of the people I knew, the explosion proved to them that some things were too risky to attempt. For me, the space bug didn't just bite me, it burrowed into my soul. I became obsessed. It didn't hurt that I was able to connect my new obsession with my longer obsession with President Kennedy. Yeah, I was a strange kid.
Soon I was able to rattle off the names of the Mercury and Apollo astronauts along with which missions they flew in. I observed the dates of the Apollo 1 and Challenger tragedies for years. I find it ironic that one of THE case studies I need to know in and out for my study of public administration, feminist public administration and gender in public administration is the Challenger explosion. Sometimes I like to think of it as a sign that I'm on the right track. Full circle.
Monday morning I sat on my bed as my 7-year-old daughter squirmed and her daddy stood as we watched the final launch of Endeavour. I cried remembering all those we have lost as we have pushed the boundaries of science, engineering and exploration. I cried for losing that obsession as a teen (it was transferred to marine biology). I cried because the shuttle is, for me, the epitome of what it means to be from the USA. A symbol of our intellect, our innovation, our team work, our courage, our curiosity - all wrapped up in a huge white ship. I am the most patriotic when watching the shuttle launch or land.
As we were stressing the importance of the launch to our daughter, she translated it into, "I wish I could had been an astronaut!" Damn! She took all this "last" launch as the end of space exploration. We quickly corrected her. Whew!
Later in the day I received an email from my daughter's science teacher. She had showed the launch to her first graders. A girl asked Ms. M why there aren't women astronauts. Endeavour is an all-male crew. It was quickly explained that there are women astronauts, just not on this shuttle.
I fear that kids around the country may take the celebration of the last launches as a signal that it's all over. So please continue to make news. Continue to discover things with your awesome robots and satellites. Continue to show us how much impact you have on our lives. Because we can't afford to have my daughter's generation think they won't fly among the stars.
PS: Hope to see you next year at Family Space Camp.