Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Runner-Up Teachers in Space

Too young to wax nostalgic for the Kennedy Assassination, my generation's childhood "I remember where I was when..." moment was of course the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger explosion that claimed the life of "Teacher in Space" Christa McAuliffe.

I recall processing through my elementary school hallway that January day, past a line of younger students abuzz with the news: "the Space Shuttle blew up!" "Oh, sure," I chuckled, "and that teacher got killed." My disbelief was forgivable, in light of the popularity afforded to the dead-teacher motif in schoolyard humor. (Viz. such classic ditties as Joy to the World, the School Burned Down (And All the Teachers Died) and the redoubtable Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, Teacher Hit Me With a Ruler cycle.)

Flash forward nearly 22 years, and McAuliffe's original backup, Barbara Morgan, is preparing to fly on Shuttle Endeavour this evening. One must allow Morgan props on her cojones, given the 100% historical casualty rate for Teachers in Space.

As the launch approaches, more than half of the 119 original Teacher in Space program finalists have gathered at Cape Canaveral. According to a CNN feature, many of the finalists since "have worked in the aerospace industry, created space camps and established schools with a focus on science and technology." Gail Klink, a finalist from Ohio, has built a two-decade strong career as a motivational speaker on the subject of "launching your life."

I may be the worst person in the world for saying this, but doesn't it seem like the Challenger blowing up was the best thing that ever happened to these people? If the mission had gone off as planned, the Teacher in Space program would have been forgotten in a matter of months as the expensive publicity stunt that it was, a new coat of paint on a manned space program long since bereft of any credible scientific purpose.

And this field of also-rans would have been packed back off into obscurity with their commemorative plastic orbiters. Nobody would still be paying $39.95 to hear some Reagan-era runner-up explain why her honorable mention in a Cold War propaganda contest should inspire the audience to follow their dreams of mortgaging the house and starting that scrapbooking business.

Check your O-rings, Barbara Morgan; careers are waiting to be reborn from your solid rocket fuel flames.

1 comment:

  1. I was in high school that year, a southern baptist high school in Memphis. I spent my afternoons wandering the halls thanks to my cushy job in the advising office. When I heard about the shuttle, I went to the library's AV room, where a few folks were watching the coverage.

    The newscaster made a comment about what a horrible tragedy it was and a girl snorted and said, "Oh, yeah, right, they'll forget about it in a week."

    Then the principal came over the intercom, told everyone what had happened, and asked for a moment of silence for prayer.

    The same girl exclaimed, "Oh, god, y'all, let's pray."

    You may be a finalist, but at that moment I think she was far more deserving of the "worst person in the world" title.


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