Skip to content

How Old Are Your Memories

January 28, 2020

How old are you?

Are you Berlin Wall Falling old?

Maybe you are 9/11 old.

Maybe like my dear mother, you are Moon Landing, or Kennedy Assasination old.

I’m Reagan Assasination old and just slightly older than Challenger Explosion old.

There are moments that are so galvinizing, so shocking that they sear themselves into our memories. We remember every detail, or at least tell ourselves we did. Historians and psychiatrists tell us that’s not actually true. That, while we have vivid memories, they are not neessarily true memories.

It doesn’t matter. The memories are real to us. Today is the 34 anniversary of the Challenger exploding. I’m not sure “anniversary” is the right word, but I’m not a good enough writer to come up with a better one.

Thirty-four years ago I was living in Orange County California. I was a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My companion, Elder Scott and I were “sign language” missionaries. We were renting a room from a local member of the church.

It was the start of our day. Missionaries aren’t allowed to watch television. We were in our room getting ready. The woman who owned the house was in her room ironing. Weird that I can remember her ironing but I don’t remember her name.

She was watching the launch. We hadn’t sent a lot of shuttles into space. It was still new. And being new it was full of hope and promise. The shuttles were making space travel seem to be something that anyone could do. Trips to “outer space” were right around the corner.

In fact, it was so common that NASA was sending a civilian, a teacher, into space. Christy McAuliffe. Millions of childer were let out of school that January 28th, in 1986 to watch “America’s school teacher” ride a pillar of flame into orbit.

It was therefore so much more tragic when, 73 seconds into the launch, Challenger exploded killing all aboard. It was not only the death of McAuliffe and six others, but it was our first death of astronauts in flight. We’d lost the three man crew of Apollo 1 on the launch pad. But, this was the first time, they died in flight.

We as a nation were shocked and then we grieved. The investigation took months. Eventually, they discovered that the unseasonably cold weather in Florida the night before cause a failure in a rubber seal. Fuel escaped thorugh the seal and blew up the orbitor.

I don’t remember everything about that day. I cannot tell you if we went out or stayed in glued to the television. I have one more memory of that day. Again, I cannot remember if I listened to it that day, or only heard it later.

You can hear it here. It’s President Reagan’s speech. He spoke the words that we didn’t know we needed. And I know he was an actor, but it didn’t sound like acting. It sounded like all of our hearts breaking together.

We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

How old are you? Today, I’m this old.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (
LinkedIn (
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2020 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

Here is the entirety of President Reagan’s address

Ladies and gentlemen, I’d planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.

Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for 25 years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.

I’ve always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don’t hide our space program. We don’t keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That’s the way freedom is, and we wouldn’t change it for a minute.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: “Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.”

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and an historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply