Twenty-five years ago, on January 28, 1986, the world lost seven of its best and brightest citizens when the space shuttle Challenger was destroyed as it launched into space. Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis were lost when their spacecraft exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on that brisk January morning.
At that time, I had only recently begun to make contact with other personal computer users on a server which sponsored what was called a “bulletin board,” (BBS) which was a place where you could exchange ideas and post messages to others in “user groups.”
My computer at that time was a Commodore 64, and the user group was called, “The Computer Connection,” described on the introductory page as “a not-for-profit organization addressing educational interests of personal computer users.” You connected to the server by dialing the phone number, with the phone jack connected to a device called a “modem.” You could upload text files either directly or from a word processing program, and there were a number of “directories” containing files on all sorts of educational and recreational topics which you could download to your own computer.
Before long, I became engaged in several of the “conferences” which contained discussions on everything from personal computing to rock music. The one that caught my attention in the summer of 1985 was called the “Philo Conference,” which dealt with ideas in Philosophy, Science, and Religion, and how all three were related. As you might imagine, I immediately found myself posting messages and responding to queries posted by other users.
The person who ran the BBS, the “Sysop,” was the host of the Philo conference, and was a professor at Jefferson Medical College who divided his time between teaching and research in neuroscience and pharmacology. As it turned out, I was the first person to post a message in the Philo conference, since he had only just brought it online a short time before I came across it. We immediately began a vigorous discussion and enjoyed a rewarding friendship which lasted several years.
On January 20, 1986, I posted a message about a television show called, “Teacher in Space,” a documentary on NBC about Christa McAuliffe’s training and preparation for the shuttle launch. I speculated that we might be able to “take a trip into outer space as civilians by the year 2000.”
When the accident occurred, I wrote a message that night which expressed my inability to put into words, “the feelings evoked by the tragic loss of the seven astronauts,” and closed by saying how I thought we could “best honor (their) memories by achieving the goals of space travel in spite of the loss.” The sysop wrote in the only response that the astronauts were “space pioneers,” who valued the knowledge gained by space travel “enough to take the risks – they exemplify the best of the human spirit.”
He added in closing, “that spirit has characterized humanity from antiquity and it remains.”
In an article by Clara Moskowitz for MSN.com, she quotes Barbara Morgan, who “later became the first educator astronaut to reach orbit:
“We can never predict the future, but we can help shape the future. And if we want that future to be bright and open-ended and be one of lifelong learning, we’ve got to keep reaching for the stars.”
Here is a link to the full article:
May we continue to remain open to the future, regardless of the risks.