Tuesday, January 31, 2017

31 Years Ago...

Sometimes there are moments that slap you right in the face of the realization of the amount of time that has passed. When I was a kid, I was a huge space nerd. I wanted to be an astronaut, exploring new worlds, and living the the adventures of my favorite science fiction novels. I watched the very first launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia back in 1981 from the cafeteria at Washington Hunt. The Right Stuff was one of my favorite movies.

Saturday, Wendy and I attended the opening of the Challenger Learning Center of O.N.E. before we went to the Express game. It was an appropriate date. The Challenger Disaster occurred on January 28, 1986. The Challenger Center For Space Science Education was founded by the families of the astronauts lost in the tragedy as a means to continue the educational mission of the crew.

According to their own website, “Challenger Center and its global network of Challenger Learning Centers use space-themed learning and role-playing strategies to help students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate skills needed for future success, such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork.”

I was 12 years old when the accident happened. I was on my way home from my 6th grade class at Washington Hunt, when my mother motioned frantically from the front door. We had a half day that particular day, and I spent the rest of the day watching the image of smoke and fire high in the sky with the boosters flying erratically out of control.

For Wendy, it had an even bigger impact on her life. On her 12th birthday, the Space Shuttle exploded. She may not have been the space nut that I was (still am, actually), but that event definitely had an impact on the way her birthday was viewed.

In my mind, 12 years old doesn’t really seem that long ago. When I look in the mirror, I see the gray hairs creeping in at the temples and tell-tale lines at the corners of my eyes. However, when I look into my eyes, I still see that crazy, awkward teenager lurking there. Most days I don’t feel that much older.

Then, someone mentioned that the Challenger Disaster happened 31 years ago. Thirty-one years ago. When I heard that number, I was surprised. That’s an awfully big number -- at least it seems that way to me. It shocks the mind into reality as to how old we really are.

The dream of exploring space still lives strong within me. Maybe it was all the books I read as a kid. Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova, and Kim Stanley Robinson helped me to discover new worlds. In real life, we could see old movies of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo astronauts, or we could watch the live space shots of the Space Shuttle program.

Now that the United States has given up on that dream of exploring space, preferring instead to hinder the human spirit of exploration for a sense of comfort behind privacy fences, all we have are the old books and movies. And we have the Challenger Learning Center right here in Lockport. The museum will serves Orleans, Niagara, and Erie counties. It will keep those dreams alive while teaching students important skills to assist them through their school years. And maybe get some new kids interested in the exploration of space.

I hope to be able to run a mission with some friends. It could be my only mission “into space.” While the center is designed for middle school kids, there is something to interest all ages. Maybe the next American moonwalker will be someone who walks through those doors and tackles one of the missions at the Challenger Learning Center of O.N.E.

Craig Bacon still wants to be an astronaut. Some people already think he’s a space cadet.

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