Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26 (NIV)*
Growing up in Florida, the space industry was rather an ordinary trade. While the exploration of places unknown and the excitement of space travel was still there, the close proximity of Cape Canaveral (later named Kennedy Space Center after John F. Kennedy) made visits to see the rockets and launching pads routine. Even after the advent of the space shuttle with its red blasting tail visible all the way across the state, we hardly took notice of the launches. Sometimes, we would remember and dash outside to see the vapor trail, but if we missed it, we could shrug our shoulders and know there would be another opportunity soon. So, as January 1986 arrived, I was hardly thinking of the upcoming shuttle launch that would carry the first civilian into space. A teacher, Christa McAuliffe, had trained and worked hard so she could broadcast a lesson from outer space to children all over the world. But, I was more concerned about the birth of our firstborn child who was six days overdue. And when he finally arrived on January 23, 1986, I forgot about everything else but him. Oldest son was born by C-Section. After 12 hours of labor with no movement on his part, the doctor wanted to go home and so did I. Because I had a C-Section, I got to stay in the hospital for five days and was being discharged on the morning of January 28. During my long stay, husband had paid for the television in the room (in those days, before luxury birthing suites, you had to pay for the hospital TV), but on the day you were discharged, TV service ended. By 11:38, I had gingerly dressed doing my best not to tear open the wounds on my belly. I was ready to go with my baby boy all wrapped up in blankets because it was an unusually cold Florida day. As he and I waited in our room for husband to arrive, I heard a muffled scream from the nurse’s station and then, a commotion as people began talking all at once. I left my son to follow the sound of crying and the nurses all gathered in front of a television. In later years, when I was so overprotective I wouldn’t let him cross the street to school alone, I thought about my neglect on that day when he was officially discharged from the hospital into my care. When I realized the news, it took me a minute more before I remembered to go back and get him. You see, the Space Shuttle Challenger had exploded and all lives on board were lost. From then on, I never took the Space Shuttle launches for granted. I could never see one in person or on television that I didn’t remember that ball of flames shown over and over again on television. As I held my child, I thought of the children of those astronauts, and he was even more precious than ever.
*Quoted by President Bush on February 1, 2003 after the explosion of the Space Shuttle Columbia.