When a social-studies teacher at my school was selected to become the first civilian in space in 1985, it was a shining occasion for Concord High and for the community as a whole. It didn’t end well, with the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and its aftermath having been amply documented here and elsewhere.
The runner-up to McAuliffe in NASA’s Teacher in Space competition was an educator from McCall, Idaho named Barbara Morgan.
Despite the horrors of January 28, 1986 and the major and minor difficulties plaguing NASA intermittently ever since, Morgan, who trained extenseively with and befriended McAuliffe over 21 years ago, is scheduled to fly on the Space Shuttle Endeavor tonight. Now 55, she’ll be the second-oldest American to ever undertake a maiden space voyage.
A conspiciously unbylined column in yesterday’s Concord Monitor bleeds pessimism like liquid hydrogen. I wish they hadn’t chosen to adopt such a doomsday tone and to remark primarily on Morgan’s perseverance, but that they did not is simply more assurance that those who were there to cover what was ostenibly both a celebration and a historic moment in 1986 remember all too well the impact of what remains, and hopefully always will, the darkest moment in the history of humanned flight.
Call me a stubborn dreamer, but not only am I confident Morgan will fulfull — emotionally, symbolically, and technically — the very legacy Christa would have wanted for anyone, I can’t wait to watch it happen.