Whenever a space shuttle launches, I try to watch. I did so this morning, when Atlantis took off for the program’s final mission.
I was watching at lunch on Jan. 28,1986, when Challenger began what would be its last mission. I was a freshman at OU, and after pestering the editors for weeks, I had just been given a staff writer’s job at The Post, the independent student paper there. Journalism was I went to Athens after high school, but outside of a couple feature stories and the column that got my foot in the door the previous fall, I hadn’t really done much yet.
Watching the Challenger explode 73 seconds into its flight was horrifying, of course; I watched the footage over and over, stunned, while I stood in the little restaurant in Baker Center. And I’m not sure why it happened, but eventually something made me move, I walked to the other side of the building, where The Post had its offices, to see if there was anything I should be doing.
There was, of course. I didn’t get to my classes that afternoon, because one of the editors — might have been Ethel, now that I think about it — sent me out to collect reactions from fellow students. While I was doing that, others were talking to people in town and the campus editor — my editor — drove to another town in eastern Ohio to interview a friend of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who had died along with six astronauts on the flight.
I may still have a copy of that paper somewhere. I remember being proud of helping, in a small way, of getting that paper out.
When a catastrophe like the Challenger explosion happens, people tend to shut down while they process what they’ve seen and heard. The people in my business are wired differently, though — it’s not that we don’t share those emotions, but we’re able to put them aside and do our jobs. Looking back, that was the first day I knew I was wired that day. I came to Athens for OU’s journalism program; I knew on that day I had made the right choice.