Friday, January 28, 2011

The Challenger

I would have never remembered that it was January 28, 1986 if I hadn't seen it the date on-line. I wouldn't have known, or even guessed, that it was twenty-five years ago today. I just remember how I felt. I'd worked damn hard on that project, and I was quite annoyed at the interruption.

What? Well, twenty-five years ago today, I and a few classmates were scheduled to give a presentation to the class about 'television'. The class, grade five as it happens, were broken into small groups and each group had been given a particular medium to discuss. Ours was television, and we had made a television set out of cardboard and overhead-projector paper to house the materias for our presentation. We were cutting edge. Or class, and the class next to ours, were open-design in the strangest of ways so that we were actually in the corridor, witing for our chance to go in front of the class and give our presentation. But there was no 'wall' as such, just a waist-high row of bookshelves between the classroom and the corridor.

One group had finished, and the moment they finished we were interrupted to be given news about the Challenger.

I'm just thinking about it today, and among other things I think the disconnect is that our teachers were of the 'space race' generation; they had sat crowded around TVs in 1969 watching Neil Armstrong, they had listened to David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on transistor radios and dreamed about the bold new era they were assuredly on the cusp of.

We grew up in an era when space shuttles took off with a mundane regularity. I do still recall seeing the launches on the news and stuff, but space shuttles periodically went into space. That was part of life. Not only had David Bowie rehashed his first hit as "Ashes to Ashes", but some German guy had even done a thoroughly new-wave third take on the Major Tom saga. The 'space age' era was old hat to us.

Which is not to say we had seen a space shuttle blow up in mid-space, mind you, or that we had ever seen a civilian, one with the same job as our traumatised teachers no less, instantly killed. People didn't die on TV back then, not like they do now. It still should have been shocking as hell for a ten-year-old.

But all I can remember is frustration that our moment had been stolen, that the presentation on the medium of television that we were about to give had been pre-empted by a television itself, wheeled into our classroom with a dour sense of purpose and tragedy. So what, I thought, an accident. Whatever. I'm sure it's big news and all, but what's it doing in our classroom?

I find my reaction kind of funny all these years later. Not wrong or inappropriate or anything: I was ten. How well was I supposed to understand tragedy?

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