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01 February 2003

The space shuttle Columbia exploded on re-entry this morning, some 28 years after its first mission and just days after the 17th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. It feels odd to return to my blog on this note, and this post will seem out of place coming on the heels of the lighthearted stuff from mid-October, but I needed some record of the day.

I needed no journal entry to remember the Challenger explosion; like many Americans old enough to remember that day at all, I can vividly recall exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. I was in the kitchen of our Northern Virginia townhouse fixing myself a Fluffernutter as a late breakfast -- it had snowed enough the night before that county schools had closed for the day, and the whole family had slept in. Consequently, I'd been spared seeing it happen on live TV, as some of my friends had. At that age I felt a bit cheated that I'd learned about the event only afterwards -- the grim TV anchors and news graphics had braced me for the shock of the video footage, when the dark shape at the head of the long white exhaust trail suddenly broke up into a shower of debris. Cheated, because I couldn't participate in the communal experience of those who talked about their confusion and mounting dread as they watched the live broadcast earlier in the morning. But I was younger then, with a teenager's indifference to mortality.

Anyway, I needed no journal entries then, but after September 11 -- after seeing the black plume that stretched overhead and rained smoke-scented papers onto the streets and rooftops of Park Slope for hours -- today's disaster seemed almost anticlimatic. So what was I doing when I heard the news? I was in bed, groggily scratching my dog's belly, gradually waking as I tried to reconstruct the terribly convoluted plot of the dream I'd been having: a motley band of U.S. Space Marines (à la James Cameron's Aliens) were on a mission to destroy Iraq's recently constructed starbase on Uranus (yes, really), only to run afoul of these subterranean flying-pirahna creatures (à la James Cameron's Pirahna II: The Spawning). My roommate Juan was watching TV in the living room, and as I roused to fuller consciousness, the audio began to resolve itself into phrases: ''NASA officials came to escort the astronauts' families back inside...''

''Some documentary about the Challenger,'' I thought, and ''How funny that this would be on when I was just dreaming about astronauts -- well, sort of astronauts.'' Then came another phrase: ''Communication with the Columbia had been lost...'' And I sighed, ''Oh. Oh, jeez,'' rolled off my futon, and turned on my computer monitor to check out

It was just about 11 a.m.; I'd slept through another one...

posted by Throbert | 2/01/2003 05:38:00 PM |
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