B A R B A R A B O S E
It can happen to anyone when least expected,
as it happened to me -- ordinary, everyday life impacted by an event of historic proportions.
I boarded a plane en route to a first-ever vacation in Jamaica. I collapsed in my seat, thrilled, but exhausted. As Art Director of the Boston Herald's Sunday Magazine, I had just been through a grueling eight day week working on a special edition.
As the plane took off I mulled over my latest project; a story about a beloved local teacher who was about to enjoy her 15 minutes of fame. I had created a kind of goofy scrapbook layout of her life story. She wasn't that old, so there wasn't a huge volume of artwork to play with. I wouldn't be around to make corrections, so it had better be perfect. I said a silent prayer to the printing gods that no glaring mistakes would greet me when it was published the day after I returned.
My thoughts shifted to the thrill of leaving the cold, dismal, northeast skies behind. The plane soon broke out of the clouds and from my left aisle window seat I watched our plane's shadow skitter across the abstract landscape far below.
Around 11:15 a.m. the captain's voice came over the speaker "We are approaching Cape Canaveral, and if you look to your left, you might be able to spot the Space Shuttle on it's launch pad." Of course, -- this was the day of a big launch. My reporter friend Joe was already in Florida doing a "puff piece" about it - covering the local hero angle. I thought of Joe and beamed a nice thought to him down there somewhere.
Our plane followed the coastline and soon approached the launch pad. The visibility was astonishing. There stood a huge rocket on a huge launch pad and it didn't seem very far away from the plane. I wondered why they allowed us to fly so close? I guess the rocket was heading eastward over the sea, and we were safely to the west. According to our captain Ours would be the last plane over before the launch, - the planes behind us would be diverted farther west.
The launch was scheduled for around 11:30 or so, as I recall - just 8 minutes from when we passed over. Every few minutes, our Captain gave us an update - clearly he was excited about it, as we all were. The plane was buzzing with conversation.
Suddenly, after a 10 minute pause, the Captain's voice broke over the loudspeaker again -- "The Challenger has ... exploded."
Complete silence...then we all just looked at each other. Did he really say that? What happened? No further announcements.
The rest of the journey, the airport, the ride to the resort was surreal. What the hell happened? Was it a bomb? Sabotage?
I was in Jamaica for two weeks - the longest I had ever been away. No one there knew about the Challenger, about the crew, the reasons. Not one newspaper to be found - though I had planned it that way. The only mention I heard of it was at a concert, where the DJ made a joke about it. I spoke with a couple who had come down on the plane behind us - they said they saw smoke in the sky.
By the time I got back to Boston, tanned and relaxed, the newsroom - and the nation - was a different place. People were still in shock about the Challenger tragedy. Joe's cushy assignment turned into the herculean task of churning out dozens of special reports for the Herald. Everyone but me had seen the tape of the explosion played on TV across the nation over and over and over. I never saw it broadcast - it seemed people couldn't bear to see it again.The day after my return, the special edition I had worked on came out -- a scrapbook on the life of Christa MacAuliffe.
People have always been driven to explore farther, farther, farther - always on the lookout for new real estate. We've done the earth, now where? I hope we bring with us some of that thoughtful respect to the next planet.