It was a cold January day and I'd somehow convinced my mother, a pediatrics nurse, that I was sick. Once she left for work, I commandeered all three tiers of the keyboard -sized cable box, it's thick brown cord draped over the flowered ottoman and my 18 year old feet. Pushing the La-Z-Boy all the way back, I worked the clunky, spring loaded buttons of the old school remote. That's when I realized it was launch-day and sat up with a snap.
Even an overgrown delinquent like myself knew about the Space Shuttle Challenger, the shuttle with the teacher on board. I'd even put in a rare appearance at a school assembly where our librarian told the story of applying for the Challenger ride and being denied. Sitting there in the bleachers, I tried to hide my fascination under a wise-ass sneer, but my frontal-lobe was secretly engorged. Civilian space flight had always intrigued me, as evidenced by the tattered Robert Heinlein novel in my book bag that day.
So it was with great adolescent satisfaction that I flipped through the previously unfathomable number of TV choices recently installed at my parent's home. Twenty five in all, counting UHF. After punching several clunky buttons I settled in on CNN, the rookie network that was forging a new, 24 hour news-cycle. With the countdown itself just seconds away, I chewed my lip and leaned into the set, eager to drink from its 19 inch glory.
The unknown achor droned on as the director dissolved between two shots - a wide shot of the new astronaut's students and a long shot of the great bird simmering in the distance. In 1986, TV news didn't get any better than this...but then the hideous tendrils appeared, crazy columns of billowing smoke that had just seconds earlier been a nation's highest-soaring dream. I watched alot more that day, stunned that a mighty spacecraft could actually crash on live TV.
Little did I know then that twenty years later I'd observe the grim anniversary by interviewing one of the fallen astronaut's brother at a crowded book signing. Carl McNair and I made small talk before he told my lens a little bit about his brother Ron. I'd have like to spend more time with the affable author, but the room was small and competitors were clamoring at the door. You know how photo ops are.