My husband waited to go to work yesterday until after Atlantis took off. With all the delays, he ended up working at home for a while with our almost-three-year-old at his side, both of them waiting patiently for the launch. My husband felt the importance of making sure my son saw it take off - it was his first and the last. My husband is an extreme science nerd - he explained the intricate details to my son and my little guy took it all in with unusual patience.
I wanted to see it too. But I have less patience than a toddler. I asked him to let me know when the clock was at 30 seconds. He called me just before that. The clock stopped at 31 seconds. Just as I was about to walk away, the countdown resumed.
It was an amazing sight. But it instantly took me back to twelfth grade physics class when we watched the Challenger take off and explode before our eyes. Tears filled my eyes and streamed down my cheeks as I watched Atlantis. I heard myself murmur something like, "Oh God, this is where it exploded." My husband and babes were so absorbed in it, they didn't notice me quietly losing it until I was sure it was all good.
I wonder if anyone else watching yesterday felt the same as me.
My physics teacher was a retired NASA engineer. He had applied to be one of the civilians on the Challenger flight but was disqualified because he formerly worked for them. He cried right there in front of us and then left the room, not because it could have been him, but because a part of him was connected to it. He may well have known people involved from his work there, I'm not sure.
I will never forget that day or the quiet the next day in class, the quiet respect we gave to him as a class instinctively. We all genuinely cared about him and wanted to console him but didn't know how. We gave him attentive (maybe awkward) silence and hoped he would talk about it, would tell us it was OK, that he was OK. He said nothing about it, looked at us quietly as if that said it all, and carried on with whatever physics was to be taught that day. At least that's how I remember it.