I was walking down the hallway. It was lunchtime and I was heading toward the gymnasium. The hallway was empty, always a minor thrill of independence for a grade-schooler. No classmates, no teachers and certainly no parents.
I don't recall exactly where I was coming from, but I hadn't yet passed my classroom. Then my teacher, Mrs. Y approached. I recall her telling me something had happened and knowing my interests, suggested I join Mr. H's class. He had originally gathered his class together to watch Christa McAuliffe and her crewmates launched into Earth orbit.
The desks in Mr. H's room faced to the left, toward the large chalkboard. But the class was sitting on the floor, facing a television strapped into a tall cart straight ahead of the door. For the first time, I saw the footage of what had happened prior to my arrival.
Astronaut Memorial at Kennedy Space Center by pdweinstein via Flickr
We naturally filter what occurs around us personally. Being in 5thgrade at the time I can only say I knew of the crew that made up Challenger's last attempt at orbit. Yet looking back 25 years later, I can't help but think I was personally affected by their loss, for a childhood dream was slipping away.
I remember two and half years later my classmates and I reconvened to witness the return to flight of the Space Shuttle. But two and half years is a life-time and a half to a preteen. What might have been a personal interest to many was expressed as distinct uninterest in just another mandatory group lesson.
Middle school is the beginning of that hazy inbtween of childhood fantasy and adult responsibility. One knows the expectation is to "think realistically about one's future". No longer is it acceptable to answer the eternal question of "what do you want to be when you grow up" with the response of astronaut. Yet what else is there?
I still carry a personal interest in space and space exploration with me. I follow the politics and as well as the technological developments. Perhaps some day I might still be able have a small influence, in something that has had a large influence on me.