Saturday, January 28, 2006

Twenty Years Ago Today

I was working as a waiter in a Darryl's restaurant in Durham, NC. It was still before noon, so it wasn't particularly busy. I was going back and forth from the kitchen to my tables getting things ready for the lunch rush. As I passed by the bar, I glanced up at the TV that was always on in there. Dan Rather's face was on the screen. I was almost to the kitchen before it struck me that that wasn't when Rather was usually on. There was stuff to do, though, so I put it out of my mind. Next trip back, Rather was still there. Hmm, I thought. This cannot possibly be good. As I stuck my head into the bar, the picture changed. It was the first time I'd seen it, but it wasn't going to be the last: that weirdly assymetrical cloud of smoke, pieces arcing off and trailing through the sky like errant comets.
"What happened?" I asked.
The bartender looked up from where he was setting down a pallet of beer mugs. "Space Shuttle blew up."
It was like being punched in the gut. I sat down on the steps leading down into the sunken bar area. "What happened?"
A shrug. "Don't know."
"Anybody get out?" It was a stupid question. No one could have gotten out of that.
Another shrug. "Don't know."
The nonchalance infuriated me. You idiot, I wanted to say. We just lost the stars.
I was wrong, of course. Wrong for being angry at a guy who, after all had his own crappy job to get through, and wrong for thinking it was the death of space flight. We didn't lose the stars, we just got set back. What we did lose was the lives of seven brave people, one of them a teacher who'd won a chance to go along and hold class from space.

Commander Francis "Dick" Scobee
Pilot Michael J. Smith (a native of Beaufort, in my home state of North Carolina)
Mission Specialist Judith Resnik
Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka
Mission Specialist Ronald McNair
Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis
Payload Specialist Christa McAuliffe

1 comment:

Graham Powell said...

I was in high school at the time, but I was home sick that day. I probably watched the coverage for 12 hours that day.