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Monday, February 03, 2003

Columbia

In my post a few days ago about the State of the Union, I concentrated mostly on not the speech, but the coverage of it. The news is the window through which I see the larger world, and without that window I would have no knowledge of important events beyond my personal reach. News can come in many different forms, everything to Tom Brokaw on my TV to a friend passing along a story they heard from someone else. Regardless of its source, I'm always thirsty for new knowledge, and I like feeling like I know what's going on around me. When I was writing last week about this fascination I've had with the news, I tried to remember the major news stories that stick out in my earliest memories. I vaguely remember the 1984 Summer Olympics and that year's presidential election, but too vaguely to remember anything specific. Last Saturday I received a grave reminder of the first news story that made a significant impact on my life.

My interests as an 8-year-old were pretty typical - dinosaurs, G.I. Joe, the A-Team, and most all the other stuff you might expect. But at that particular time my greatest interest had to be the NASA and the Space Shuttle Program. I collected toys, built models, read books, and even subscribed to Odyssey, a magazine for kids dedicated to space-related issues. I'd sit outside at night with my K-Mart telescope and wonder if I could possibly ever see the shuttle in orbit, and in December of 1985 and January of 1986 I remember going out to the country at 5 am with my mom to scan the skies for Halley's Comet. It was a great time to be a kid interested in what was beyond our planet...until the Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986.

I was in school eating lunch when my teacher, Mrs. Sue Lynn Steiner (still one of my favorite teachers ever), came into the lunchroom and asked me to come out in the hall with her. She told me what had happened to the Challenger, and that she wanted me to know from her before I heard anything from the other kids or teachers. I knew all about the mission, with Christa McAuliffe as the first teacher in space, and I couldn't wait to get home and find out more information. I'm sure I was tuned into Tom Brokaw that night and for many newscasts in the days and weeks thereafter, and last Saturday's Columbia disaster reminded me of all those details I had yearned for 17 years before.

Although I don't take nearly the interest in NASA and the space program that I did when I was younger, I had seen the Columbia's last liftoff and I still had feelings of nervousness, not knowing if I would see a live replay of the Challenger. Everything seemed to go just fine, and I promptly put it out of my mind. I woke up Saturday and immediately saw the news, and didn't leave the coverage for the next 5 hours, and I've returned to it many times since. I'm still very aware that the news is between me and the actual event, and I feel very sorry for those who cannot say the same.

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