That frosty January morning of my fifth grade year started as every other school day did. I got up and began to get ready for school. I decided I really didn't feel well and went to my mother. After feeling my forehead and taking the obligatory temperature, my mother decided I wasn't going to school that day. My sister, three years my junior, headed off on her own to wait for the bus. My mother got herself ready for work and then I was at home with just my grandma. I can't recall where my grandpa was but likely out working in his shop on something or other.
I had settled onto my mom's bed with pillow and blankets in tow to watch morning television. I distinctly recall seeing the first few minutes, maybe even as much as a half hour, of Bob Barker and The Price is Right. Suddenly there was a breaking news story cutting into the show. The Challenger launch at Cape Canaveral had gone awry. It was too early to know what happened, but I recall there was a lot of speculation on the news anchor's part.
When it became apparent that The Price is Right wasn't going to resume any time soon, I relocated to the living room sofa. My grandma had likely been watching Donahue as was her routine after everyone left for work or school. She was watching the NBC coverage and I can distinctly see Tom Brokaw talking about the apparent explosion of the Challenger Space Shuttle. The morning wore on, the coverage continued, and the questions began. I must have watched that short, but tragic video clip a hundred times that day. The focus seemed to be so much on Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.
Probably the reason this day sticks so much in my memory was that Idaho teacher Barbara Morgan was in the Teacher in Space program with McAuliffe and was backup to McAuliffe for the Challenger launch. Our local news coverage was heavy in the days leading up to the Challenger launch, with particular emphasis on the Morgan connection. She was an elementary school teacher in the McCall-Donnelly School District and it was big news that little ol' Idaho had such a teacher worthy of being selected for this elite group. I remember it was talked about in my fifth grade class.
My memories of the rest of that day are blurry, likely from not feeling well. I know I went to school the following day. I remember the teacher talking to the class about explosion. It was the top story of the NBC news coverage for days to come. And I remember learning that the Teacher in Space program was suspended.
Though the program was halted due to the catastrophe that January day, Barbara Morgan did get her turn in space when in August 2007 she participated in a 12-day mission to the International Space Station. Following her successful mission, she has been a speaker and more recently at the local university as a Distinguished Educator in Residence. However, nearly all news coverage of her links her to the Challenger disaster and Christa McAuliffe.
It seems hard to believe 25 years have passed since that day I didn't feel well.
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