When I was at first school, our class topic in early 1986 had been to study space travel and we spent a lot of time discussing how the Space Shuttle worked. We even went so far as creating a model Space Shuttle out of toilet roll tubes with a balloon propulsion system that whizzed across the classroom on a piece of string. The project was tied in closely with the forthcoming launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger which was due to launch on Tuesday the 28th January 1986 with seven astronauts on board. Along with hundreds of other classes in schools around the world, our class was especially interested in this Shuttle launch since one of the crew was a young female school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was the very first to be selected through Ronald Reagan’s ‘Teacher in Space Project’ designed to inspire students in all things scientific and astronomical.
On the morning of Tuesday January 28th, the day of the launch, the excitement of all the children in our class was barely containable and we could hardly wait to get home from school to watch the Shuttle launch on television. The school day seemed to drag on forever but eventually we left and raced home in eager anticipation. Just before 5pm that evening we tuned in to BBC1 and waited excitedly as Philip Schofield handed us over to Roger Finn in the Newsround studio. Newsround began with the following words: “Disaster for the Shuttle, an explosion on Challenger” spoken by Roger Finn in a very sombre voice accompanying video footage of the Space Shuttle disintegrating into a horrifying plume of smoke and debris. The camera then cut to a very solemn looking Roger Finn who continued, “Within the last few minutes we’ve heard there’s been an explosion on board the Space Shuttle Challenger”.
Newsround was the first to break the news in the UK and we eventually learned that all seven of the crew members onboard Space Shuttle Challenger, including our hero, teacher Christa McAuliffe, had been killed in the disaster which was caused by a faulty O-ring seal on the right solid rocket booster. I remember the sickening feeling of absolute horror, disbelief and grief as we learned about the disaster which curtailed not only our own school space project, but also led to Ronald Reagan’s cancellation of the entire Teacher in Space Project.