January 28th, marks the 37-year anniversary of the most horrific tragedy in space exploration history. It was a day that changed my life forever.
On a fateful January day in 1986, I sat in my fifth period senior social studies class staring out the window at another snow covered Maine morning. As my mind wandered, my teacher, Mr. Cox, was stressing the importance of some concept I was obviously not interested in.
I kept thinking to myself as he lectured, “I dont know how much more snow I can stand. Shoot, I dont know how much more of this class I can stand. I just want the school day to end so I can fully concentrate on our game tonight.”
A loud knock at the classroom door shook me from my mid-period daydream. I looked up from my seat in the seventh row to see Mr. Cox flagging Mr. Davis, my homeroom teacher, into the room. Mr. Davis had a perplexed look on his face as he excitedly spoke to Mr. Cox in a hushed tone.
I could tell by the way that Mr. Davis was gesturing that something was amiss. Assuming their discussion was completely irrelevant to me, I resumed my daydream of warmer days and hitting jump shots.
A few moments later I was again shaken from my daydream by the sight of Mr. Davis wheeling a television on its cart into the classroom. As he fumbled with the cord, then the archaic pair of rabbit ears, Mr. Cox made an announcement to the class that I will never forget.
“Kids, what I am about to tell you is something that may come as a shock. But this is the type of event that you will always remember where you were when it happened. For your parents it is like the Kennedy Assassination. For you the closest thing I can compare it to was the day President Reagan was shot. Here goes, about 30 minutes ago the Space Shuttle exploded in mid-air on take off, killing all seven astronauts aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher from New Hampshire. Because this is such an important event, we will watch the news coverage on television until the end of the period. If any of you has study hall next period I will arrange for you to stay and watch if you wish to do so.”
As I viewed the horrific white plumes of smoke criss-cross across the all too blue sky on television, I slowly raised my hand to indicate that I had study hall the next period and wanted to stay and watch.
The television news anchor kept repeating over and over again that the explosion occurred just 73 seconds after lift-off. I kept replaying that number over and over in my head. Seventy-three seconds. One minute and 13 seconds. Approximately 1/60 of an hour. Seven peoples lives had ended 73 seconds after perhaps the most important achievement of their lives. These astronauts, who had achieved the pinnacle of success in their profession, had had their lives snuffed out in an instant.
I left the classroom that day with the realization that life as we know it is fragile. One minute we can be on top of the world and the next we could be gone. I made an important decision that day as I shuffled down the hall toward my seventh period English class. I determined that A) I was a merely mortal and not the inpenetratable teenager that I thought I was, and B) I needed to make myself “right with God.” I was not some rebellious person who lived life on the edge but I hadnt been living in step with God, my father in Heaven.
Many years after the shocking national tragedy I experienced in fifth period senior social studies class, my wife and I had the opportunity to tour the Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia. Among the various monuments that included President Kennedy’s eternal flame, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and an assortment of presidential graves, we stumbled upon a memorial marker honoring the seven victims of the Challenger disaster. As we stood before it, my mind immediately flooded with thoughts of that fateful day in 1986 when I came to the stark realization that I needed to be right with God and that I was but a frail human being totally dependent on Gods soul enriching grace.
In Joel 2:12-13 it says, “Now, therefore,” says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the Lord your God, For He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.”
In this passage of scripture, God told the people to turn to Him while there was still time. Destruction would soon be upon them. Time is also running out for us because we do not know when our lives will end. We should trust and obey God now. We should not let anything hold us back from turning to Him.
As I walked through a friends living room on a cold, winter’s day in February 2003, I couldnt help but notice the eerily familiar plumes of white smoke that enveloped an all too blue sky. A quick glance at my watch told me that it was not the 17-year anniversary of the Challenger. That had taken place a few days earlier. Then President Bush appeared on the screen. He simply said, “Columbia is lost; there are no survivors.”
It was January 28, 1986 all over again. I asked myself the question, Am I right with you Lord.” Thankfully, the answer was yes. How about you?
No one knows the day or the hour when Jesus Christ will return. Furthermore, no one knows when their last breath will come. As a father loves his son and waits patiently for the moment he returns home, so too does our Heavenly Father wait patiently and lovingly for His children to return and follow Him. Won’t you make yourself right today with Him?
Information used in this article from The Transformer Study Bible.