Final Countdown

Brian Covert

Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline

Crackling speakers, voices tense
Resume the final count
All systems check, T minus nine
As the sun and the drama start to mount

The effects of the news about the recent Challenger space shuttle tragedy came in waves.

First came the initial disbelief when I heard it from someone at the office. Are you serious? was our first reaction.

We switched on the radios and listened for what seemed like a lifetime to the sad but true news.

A silence came over the office; everybody slowly continued their chores, but conversation was minimal.

The earth beneath us starts to tremble
With the spreading of a low black cloud
A thunderous roar shakes the air
Like the whole world exploding

Scorching blast of golden fire
As it slowly leaves the ground
Tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound

More disbelief. Radio reports kept coming in, but the full impact of the tragedy didn’t hit home until I saw for the first time a televised clip of the mid-air explosion. Unbelievable.

For a few minutes I was really glued to the TV set and couldn’t take my eyes away.

And the disaster had ripple effects all the way from Cape Canaveral, Florida to Sanger, California: I received a phone call not long after the disaster from a Fresno public relations person asking me to please remove the name of Dr. Judith Resnick — one of the shuttle astronauts — from a press release the Herald had been sent about an upcoming women’s business conference.

Finally, later in the day, as the 6 p.m. evening news coverage was winding down, reality sunk in: A co-worker informed me that an auto accident involving serious injury was just reported over the scanner.

By instinct, I grabbed my camera and took off to the scene of the accident.

I thought about the shuttle all the way over there.

Excitement so thick — you could cut it with a knife
Technology — high, on the leading edge of life

Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination — with the eyes of the world
We stare…

—“Countdown”, N. Peart, 1982.