(Note: This op-ed originally appeared on the anniversary of the Challenger disaster, in the news outlets linked at the bottom of this post. Post originally posted on Jan. 28, 2015.)
BOSTON — Today marks the anniversary of the 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy. “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning,” President Ronald Reagan told the nation, “as they … waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”
The country grieved, especially Massachusetts, because among the crew members killed was Framingham native Christa McAuliffe, a U.S. history teacher and the first educator-astronaut.
American rocketry began in Worcester through the imagination of physicist-inventor Robert Goddard, who built the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket. Goddard’s inspiration was H.G. Wells’ classic novel “The War of the Worlds,” which he read as a boy.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, while in 1961, Yuri Gagarin became humanity’s first cosmonaut. As the space race started and the Cold War intensified, it ushered in a sweepingly technocratic vision of society that still marks American education.
Regrettably, in schools, history is lost in deep space. In 2009, claiming prohibitive costs, the Patrick administration postponed a requirement that Massachusetts high school students pass a U.S. history MCAS test to graduate.
NASA’s voyages have captured our dreams with interstellar pioneers like Alan Shepard, the first American in space (1961); John Glenn, the first American to orbit the earth (1962); and Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut (1983).