I had my general music students in the high school’s library to complete a project. I caught several teachers gathered around the television in the audio-visual room. After investigating, I called the students over to watch the event.
“I can still remember watching man’s first walk on the moon. You need to see the space shuttle’s launch.”
For some reason, I was focused on Christa McCauliffe’s mother, Grace Corrigan. There was something striking about the mother of the first teacher in space.
As the tragedy unfolded Mrs. Corrigan’s face remained focused on the sky. It was still unclear as to what had happened, or actually, if anything had happened. While those of us gathered around the television were silently questioning what was taking place, a NASA official stepped up to Ed and Grace Corrigan to explain The Challenger had exploded.
Mrs. Corrigan’s reaction finally acknowledged what millions watching feared.
Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces in the sky.
Be with them always in the air,
In darkening storms or sunlight fair;
Oh, hear us when we lift our prayer,
For those in peril in the air!
This additional verse by Mary C. D. Hamilton (1915) was officially added to the hymn.
Later that evening, President Ronald Reagan, postponing his annual State of the Union, addressed the nation with one of the most beautifully crafted and delivered speeches I’ve ever heard from a president. With one hand he dried our tears, and with the other allayed our fears by reminding us we are still pioneers.
And then he spoke to all the school children who had been watching that morning’s celebration of the first teacher in space. It was tender, grandfatherly. Again, the president stressed that we will continue to explore space as true pioneers.
Then came the paragraph that bound us all in unified tears…
“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.'”