Light at the End of the Tunnel
January 1986 was the beginning of the worst year of my life. On Jan. 28 the Challenger exploded killing seven Astronauts, my friends. It was totally unexpected and unprecedented. Our entire space program was set adrift. What could we do? We had to begin with what had to be done. It was an incredibly sad and difficult time.
First, there were grieving families to support. Then there were bodies to retrieve and to bury with honor. A cause for the accident had to be found to understand whether our Space Program would continue. We would have to depend on the commission investigating the crash, our NASA management team and Congress, all of which was out of our hands.
After so much grief, spring finally arrived in May. All of what had to be done was completed. One of my fellow astronauts suggested it was time for us to get together – to have a party. Someone proposed we have an old-fashioned Sock Hop like we had as teenagers where everyone shed their shoes and danced and slid around the floor in their socks. Posters, ‘50s clothes (especially poodle skirts), skits, singers, jokes and pranks were encouraged. Those who deserved to be “roasted” would be and beer would be plentiful.
The most memorable thing for me was the formation of an all-Astronaut band. The name chosen for the group was Max Q, an aeronautical term meaning the point in a rocket’s trajectory where the maximum force is exerted on the vehicle. The band practiced in the Astronaut gym, much to the delight of those of us working out.
Everyone came to the party, including the spouses of our fallen comrades and our NASA bosses. There was laughter, raucous jabs at many people including our leaders, sing-alongs, line dancing and of course the band. One of our Astronaut friends, Sonny Carter made a wonderful DJ and we all joined in the singing. My favorite record was Jump for My Love, by the Pointer Sisters. Younger folks who Google the song will see why it was played more than once for the somewhat inebriated crowd.
It had been a terrible year but the Sock Hop brought us all back together and signaled the light at the end of the tunnel.
When we see what is going on around us this year, when the whole world is dealing with the “Great Interruption” of the COVID-19 virus, we have to understand that it will not be forever. Friends and others will be lost, lives will be forever changed. We won’t forget them or how we had to adapt to being quarantined. But there is light at the end of the tunnel in this awful year.
Love one another, be grateful for your friends and family, be well and look forward to better times.
PS: Max Q continues to get together to play for happy crowds after more than 30 years.
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