Wellington, 1986. It’s a pleasant morning during the summer holidays. An 11 year old boy walks into the lounge of his parents house. He can tell from the behaviour of his parents that something is amiss. His mother tells him that the space shuttle has blown up while it was taking off. His initial disbelief at the seriousness of this news is based on the recent discovery that when car engines ‘blow-up’, they don’t actually explode ala the action shows on TV. “You mean, *really*, blown up?”, he asks, his dismay obvious. She breaks the news to her son very delicately, knowing his love for such things. Almost as gently as the time she told him that his grandfather, her father, had died in the night. Indeed the unthinkable has happened, the shuttle has been destroyed and the astronauts are dead. Perhaps more than most 11 year old boys, he is particularly keen on astronomy and space travel. This news causes him a feeling of grief, but also excitement. A real life space disaster. News like this is sad, but extremely unusual and dramatic. The images of the Challenger’s final take off became embedded in his memory over the next few weeks as they are repeated at any opportunity. He looked in the newspapers daily for updates on the recovery attempt and theories on the possible cause of the tragedy. He remembers Ronald Reagan’s line about the seven astronauts touching the face of God.
Move forward nearly twenty years. In a world after September 11 the news of the Colombia’s destruction, while shocking, seems to pale in significance to its sisters demise. How differently would Columbia’s break-up have been received had the WTC massacre never happened? As we get older experience leaves its mark. This second shuttle tragedy serves as a milestone. Standing at Columbia’s historic marker, and looking back to the Challenger disaster and all that has passed along the way, I realise how much life has changed my perception of such events.
History doesn’t often repeat in a lifetime. When it does it offers us a special opportunity to think about our life and times.
For prosperity – on Saturday night I had Lebanese for dinner and discovered the delights of avocado and honey juice. And I bought a big fuck-off Arab bong.