Remember the Challenger in these challenging times

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’” – President Ronald Reagan speaking after The Challenger disaster and the loss of the seven crew members.

I have a photograph of the crew of the Challenger.

Christa McAuliffe’s mother, Grace Corrigan, sent it to me some years ago and it has stayed with me through several office moves.

As images of that terrible disaster once again flittered across television channels this past Friday, on the 25th anniversary, I took the photo down from my bookshelf and looked at it anew.

It reminds me of how much my idea of this country is tied to the space program.

As an Irish teenager I watched the landing on the moon on a grainy black and white television and thought that surely a country that could put a man on the moon must be the most amazing place on earth.

Of course, my image of America had already been heavily influenced by television Westerns. (Early Irish TV programming was mostly American).

America was a place where you dreamed big dreams, faced down your fears and readied your wagon for a trip into the unknown. It was a place where bad guys came along but the good guys always won.

Going to the moon was just one more evolution in the American story, a chance – forgive the line – to hitch your wagon to a star.

The photo of the crew of the Challenger – fresh faced young Americans of diverse backgrounds – sustains my belief that there is room for all in the American story and no matter your start in life, a chance to succeed.

There’s an African American who overcame segregated education to study physics at MIT, a Japanese American, a Jewish American woman and, of course, our ‘Irish’ Christa (Corrigan) McAuliffe, who was in fact, Irish, Lebanese, German, English, and Native American heritage. In other words, Christa was a true American