I sometimes wondered growing up in the 1980s and 1990s what it was like for previous generations on the actual days of memorable events like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first setting foot on the moon; JFK's assassination and other events. The Challenger disaster, the eruption of St. Helens and the fall of the Berlin Wall I think are the three most momentous days I remember from my childhood in the 1980s.
I was in elementary school, and we were watching the shuttle launch on television in school when the Challenger exploded. It was especially big for us kids in school, because among the Challenger crew was a schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christa_McAuliffe ). I remember thinking how awesome it would be if my teacher were on a space shuttle. And then ... it exploded.
My dad was an astronomy geek, a fan of Star Trek and Carl Sagan, so I naturally picked up the space geekery too. I was fascinated with space exploration ... but unfortunately with any passion, the sudden deaths of legends like real life astronauts I think hit particularly hard, though I know even non-geeks were impacted.
I'm no fan of Reagan (president at the time for you kids who don't know history), but there's no questioning his skills as an orator, and I still like the speech he gave in the wake of the Challenger disaster:
I think many of us play sci-fi games like Galactic Civilizations because space still remains that frontier into the unknown. I hope we can find a way to restore the great strides we once made to explore farther and farther. We could have landed a manned mission to Mars by now if we hadn't largely abandoned the focus on exploring space that seemed to result from the implosion of our space race rival (the USSR) as well as the loss of the Columbia on February 1, 2003 (just a few days after the Challenger disaster anniversary). We are still scarcely ankle-deep. I hope I will live to see a manned mission to Mars by the end of my days.
When it comes to exploring a new frontier, particularly as vast and alien as space, unfortunately we learn hard lessons on why pure oxygen environments are extremely dangerous (Apollo 1), extra checks on small things like o-rings and heeding caution from engineers over effects of cold should be heeded (Challenger) or the dangers of something seemingly innocuous as a piece of foam (Columbia). They serve to remind me on the importance of accuracy, and how even seemingly little details can make a big difference when ignored. I never made it through basic training, but I still remember vividly a schpiel given by an instructor in U.S. Navy basic training -- failure to pay attention to a bolt costing fifteen cents can destroy an aircraft costing fifteen million dollars and kill your crewmates.
True bravery means accepting terrible risk to accomplish something amazing. I think every real explorer facing real dangers, as astronauts do, fit the bill. We should definitely do all we can conceive of to improve safety, take a million checks on a single bolt, but in the end not let the very real danger of losing human lives deter us from exploration. And I think we should definitely take the time now and then to remember those who did pay the ultimate sacrifice while striving to do something great for all of mankind.