Fiery End to the Teacher's Mission
The Challenger explodes
Time Magazine, February 10, 1986

The eye accepted what the mind could not: a sudden burst of white and yellow fire, then white trails streaming up and out from the fireball to form a twisted Y against a pure heaven, and the metal turning to rags, dragging white ribbons into the ocean.  A terrible beauty exploded like a primal event of physics -- the birth of a universe; the death of a star; a fierce, enigmatic violence out of the blue.  The mind recoiled in sheer surprise.  Then it filled with horror.

One thought first of the teacher and her children -- her own and her students.  One wanted to snatch them away from the sight and rescind the thing they had seen.  But the moment was irrevocable.  Over and over, the bright extinction played on the television screen, almost ghoulishly repeated until it had sunk into the collective memory.  And there it will abide, abetted by the weird metaphysics of videotape, which permits the endless repetition of a brute finality.

The loss of the shuttle was a more profound event than that suggests.  It inflicted upon Americans the purest pain that they have collectively felt in years.  It was a pain uncontaminated by the anger and hatred and hungering for revenge that come in the aftermath of terrorist killings, for example.  It was a pain uncomplicated by the divisions, political, racial, moral, that usually beset American tragedies (Viet Nam and Watergate, to name two).  The shuttle crew, spectacularly democratic (male, female, black, white, Japanese American, Catholic, Jewish, Protestant), was the best of us, Americans thought, doing the best of things Americans do.  The mission seemed symbolically immaculate, the farthest reach of a perfectly American ambition to cross frontiers.  And it simply vanished in the air.

(Reprinted from Time Magazine, March 9, 1998, p. 167)

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