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An Essay by Gary L. Wolfstone
On January 28, 2020, we recall the 34th anniversary of the worst disaster in the history of the United States space program. Seven astronauts, including Christa McAuliffe, who was our "teacher in space," perished minutes after the Challenger lifted off (Flight 51-L) at Kennedy Space Center, January 28, 1986.
 
The shuttle had never been launched in such cold weather. Indeed, icicles had formed on the frozen skin of the Challenger. Shortly after this tragic loss, Gary Wolfstone wrote this essay:


We  Forgive  You  Christa  McAuliffe

THE PAIN SUBSIDES, and the strength resumes. Life is for the living, and we must continue our mundane tasks that your death has so rudely interrupted. It was an unspeakable horror, Christa, watching the invincible Challenger erupt in a cloud of alternating orange and gray combustion. It was so unladylike of you, Christa, leaving your modest biological mass spread across the shimmering blue skies as an incandescent smear above the Cape. You should have thought more about these sordid possibilities before strapping yourself to a contraption that would build three million pounds of thrust and catapult you ten miles above the earth in a mere seventy-five seconds. You should have anticipated the moronic quality of a man's voice announcing a "major malfunction," and you should have contemplated the surreal quality of designating a person as "the Chief of the Debris Recovery Team." But we forgive you, Christa, because we love you and because you have taught us the meaning of splendid courage.

"Thou has put eternity into the mind of man," the Scripture says, "so that he cannot find it out, from the beginning to the end." Did you not appreciate, Christa, how small your flight's contribution to human knowledge would be? Did you not weigh this slight increment of information and inspiration against the risk of forfeiting your life - a life so dear to your family and friends? You should have realized how much more graceful and self-confident your children would grow to be with the tenderness and tolerance that only you could give them. You should have analyzed the benefits and detriments before you offered to "hitch your wagon to a star." But we forgive you, Christa, because we love you and because you taught us the meaning of adventure.

Teachers do not die in the line of duty, beloved Christa. Soldiers do or die, but teachers remain behind to explain their pathetic loss. You should have realized that after the tears were brushed aside, Christa, all of our attention would be focused on the ground crew who - with strong mathematical stomachs - would devote weeks and months to breaking down the telemetry by the successive one-thousandths of seconds. Childish things and unfinished Lesson Plans are now put out of mind, as we lift our gaze to future flights and exchange reassurances of greater safety. We were surprised to learn, and would rather not have known, that the skin of the shuttle is lined with ordinance just in case military judgment is called upon the terminate the mission. We would have preferred to hear your easy laughter after an exhilirating flight instead of these grim disclosures. Astonishing vistas might have been opened, but instead a huge void was left in the heavens above us and the cold crept in. But we forgive you, Christa, because we love you and because you have taught us the meaning of sacrifice.

Into Thy hands, we commend her spirit, Sharon Christa McAuliffe ~ daughter, mother and sister ~ in whom we are well pleased. She has written her name indelibly in our history as one of seven remarkable astronauts; she has pressed her flesh against the highest reaches of the stratosphere; and she has taught us how to love to the outer limits of our hearts.
 


 
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