We weren’t watching the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger because our 6th grade class was preparing to leave on a field trip. Then we heard the school principal, Mrs. Macy, announce over the PA system that the space shuttle had exploded and that one of the crew members was a school teacher. I didn’t know at the time that my future high school freshman science teacher, Mr. Hansen, applied to the Teacher in Space Project. I can’t imagine what thoughts and feelings he experienced as he watched the launch that day—I don’t know for certain that he did watch it but I think it’s a reasonable assumption.
Moments after Mrs. Macy made that shocking announcement, I remember this kid—Donny something-or-other—cracking a tasteless joke about wishing that the teacher was the one we had from the previous school year. Even outside of the tragedy we were just learning about, I always remembered Donny as being a little prick.
The events of that morning made an otherwise exciting school outing—as exciting as a visit to a public library could be in 1986, I guess—into a rather somber one. Making it even more awkward was the fact that it was also our teacher’s birthday—Mr. Cano turned 30 that day—and there were cupcakes for everyone to celebrate.
So, January 28 stands out to me every year. I always remember that it’s the anniversary of the Challenger disaster and the loss of Christa McAuliffe and six NASA astronauts, and I always remember that it’s Mr. Cano’s birthday.
I don’t like to think that if it wasn’t for the Challenger explosion, I probably wouldn’t remember my teacher’s birthday but it is what it is.