We all know that many educators applied for this opportunity of a lifetime, but in the end Christa McAuliffe was chosen as the teacher who would go on the voyage. Though I envied her at first, I grew to accept not going and also to embrace the fact that one of my own would be making this fantastic voyage. It was a source of great pride for all us earthbound teachers, for we saw the adulation and respect that people everywhere had, not just for Christa, but for teachers in general now that she had become so famous.
So on that fateful day I was teaching a lesson about transitive and intransitive verbs. I probably sighed a little bit, glanced at my watch, and thought about Christa taking off for the heavens while I was stuck with my feet firmly planted on the ground teaching something most of my students found boring. In those days we didn't have televisions in every classroom, but I knew one of the science teachers had signed out the only one we had on a rolling cart on our floor. She and her class were watching the liftoff down the hall. My students worked on a few examples in their notebooks and the serene quiet was suddenly broken by a kind of crying and moaning that floated through the doorway, a sort of crush of recognition that something horrible happened.
In a few moments the principal's stoic voice came over the classroom intercom announcing, "The Challenger Space Shuttle has exploded on takeoff. Please pray for those on board and their families and friends." Once she stopped speaking, I heard my students gasping, some staring out the window as if they thought they'd see falling pieces of the ship coming down from the sky.
What do you say in moments like this? Sometimes silence is the best thing, and I just sat on the edge of my desk and stared at them as they buzzed their conversations and cried tears. I waited for a time and then one of the girls (who had been following Christa's journey diligently and had written about it in her journal) looked up at me and asked the question I had no answer for: "Mr. Lana, why did this happen?"