In the early to mid-1980’s, the nation’s economy was ramping up after a long recession, the military was being rebuilt and politicians seemed to be moving on from Watergate.
With the first shuttle launch in April 1981, space exploration became a non-partisan, bright spot unifying America. NASA was readying Challenger for the 25th space shuttle mission on January 28th, 1986.
Like many things, the extraordinarily complex world of reusable space flight was becoming ‘old hat,’ to the point shuttle launches were not being covered on live television.
However, this Challenger mission was different. For the first time, a non-astronaut… a school teacher named Christa McAuliffe, was on board.
This remarkable effort to engage a new generation of America’s youth in science and technology brought out televisions in classrooms across America for the live launch.
I remember exactly where I was when the Challenger exploded… do you?
If this happened before your time, do you remember when you first learned about it?
This was the first ‘national mourning’ I had experienced. My parents described a similarity to the Kennedy assassination as well as the Apollo 1 fire that killed Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.
Waning public interest in space shuttle launches before January 1986 didn’t make it any less dangerous. Sitting on a massive controlled explosion will always be dangerous… but for those willing to take the risk… it’s worth it.
As the 7 astronauts were eulogized, I learned about their spirit of adventure and willingness to risk their lives for the good of America… I remember being so inspired.
Every astronaut before and after Challenger has known the risks… but they also believe their personal risk will have a positive impact on the country they love, which is a true hallmark of patriotism.
This is quite different from self-serving promotion… these people really believed in America’s goodness… and so did their families.
What can we learn from these citizen heroes & historical events?
As I reflected back on the Challenger disaster and that time in my life, I remember people with whom I was close and my life’s focus at the time.
I was 4 months away from college graduation and preparing to launch my new career as an Air Force pilot.
Recently, I reconnected with people from that era of my life. I had a conversation this week with my friend Gary, with whom I was especially close since we were in Air Force ROTC together.
We laughed about our college adventures and a ski trip to Killington, Vermont (grateful there were no cell phone cameras back in the day).
Why should you care about my college days or attempts to ski without embarrassing myself?
It’s easy to lose touch, not only with people, but with corresponding events that have shaped your beliefs about our nation.
I suggest it’s worth the time to reach back and reconnect. When you check in with people from critical points in your life… think back to what was happening in our country at the time.
How did events of the day shape your thinking? Has your perspective changed since then? Why or why not?
Many people never consider why they believe what they believe about America… and it’s a worthy exercise.
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on 1986… a pivotal year in my life for many reasons. While I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning things about myself and America that would shape me forever.
In my personal journey, I began to “Pursue the Eagle“… the mighty symbol of American Freedom… and I’ve never stopped.
Since 1782, the bald eagle has been America’s national bird.
Her majestic beauty, great strength and long life (20-30 years in the wild) have inspired the love of America’s patriots since our founding.
The Eagle is a powerful symbol of love that means more to me now than it ever has.
Although it is virtually impossible to describe the kind of love that wells up deep within my soul, I can share that feeling in a picture… and often do… so I hope you enjoy this one.
These are just a few of my 1986 revelations. In a few days, we’ll start to see the Challenger remembrances.
Go back and watch some of the archived news footage of the launch as well as interviews with the 7 astronauts and their families (before and after the disaster).
Take a few minutes and give some thought to how that fateful mission impacted your patriotism.
With 20/20 hindsight, you’ll likely discover things about yourself you never realized… I certainly did.
Founder & CEO
PATRIOT MISSION, LLC
P.S. As you start to recall your experiences, consider sharing how they have shaped your view of America with those you love.
Maybe you can open a dialogue with a young person between 8 and 18 and ask them what they know about the Challenger.
What do they know about today’s astronauts who risk their lives going into space?
You may be amazed at what you discover!