Defying Gravity: Remembering the Challenger

By Carole Burns

Defying GravityA little after lunch on January 28, 1986 I sat with my friends from the science department at Oak Creek High School and watched as the Shuttle Challenger blasted off into space. What made this launch special was that this was the first time that a teacher was to venture into space. Judy Schmidt, one of our own science teachers, had been one of the finalists for this program and we were hoping to catch a glimpse of her in the live audience.

Shortly after the launch occurred the room became silent. The Challenger had disappeared into two separate clouds. We know now those clouds were the large fuel tanks exploding and moving away from the disintegrating shuttle.

No matter how hard I prayed, each time I watched the footage that day – the same outcome happened. I wished and pleaded that it was some horrible nightmare that I would wake up from, surely these strong people of science weren’t gone forever, surely there was some mistake.

Seven people lost their lives that day and a world was changed forever. It is estimated that nearly half o f the 9- to 13-year-olds in America watched the launch at school.

TVs were turned on in classrooms nationwide on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986 so kids could watch Christa McAuliffe and her six crewmates begin their adventure. For many of these children it was the first time they realized that life can change in an instant. Family dinners that night had a different type of discussion.

This February, the department of Performing Arts will present “Defying Gravity,” a play that looks at the 1986 Challenger disaster.

It focuses, not on the tragedy of lives lost, but on the strength and courage to venture outside of our comfort zone and reach for the stars.

Past and present lives weave together in this piece. As I read the flyers we send out to listserv and college mailing lists I wonder how many will attend. How many will sit and watch the performance, and then go home to continue in their day-to-day pursuits.

I have a feeling that audience members may find themselves looking differently at the world around them, at their daily routines, and how the small things they take for granted can make a difference in the world around them.

I can think of no greater way to honor the life of Christa McAuliffe and the many other teachers that have challenged you to ‘think outside the box’ than to find a way to make a difference and never forget to reach for the stars.

Carole J. Burns is the Director of the Wakerly Technology Training Center at Marquette University. Follow her on Twitter @burnsy1217.

1 Response to “Defying Gravity: Remembering the Challenger”


  1. 1 erica gordon (@erica_g) February 2, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Great post, Carole! Thanks for sharing!


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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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