Saturday’s news recalls Challenger explosion

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 2, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; For many, news of the space shuttle Columbia’s explosion called to mind another day &045; Jan. 28, 1986, when millions saw the shuttle Challenger fall to Earth.

In fact, many of those interviewed said the Challenger tragedy was the first thought that came to their minds when they heard Saturday’s news.

That was even true for Thomas Dent, one of the youngest to remember the 1986 event. &uot;It reminds me of the Challenger,&uot; was the first thing Dent said came to his mind.

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&uot;Challenger?&uot; said a younger coworker.

Although today’s high school seniors were only being born that year, NASA itself has plenty of information on Challenger and its end, an event that millions watched on television.

The space shuttle Challenger joined the NASA fleet in 1982 and flew nine successful missions. Its seven-member crew was lost 73 seconds after launch when a booster failure resulted in the breakup of the vehicle, according the agency’s Web site.

But Anita Spencer remembers that day firsthand.

Spencer, who was eating lunch with her family Saturday at Magnolia Grill, remembered just where she was when she heard the news about Challenger.

&uot;They came in and told the classes about it,&uot; said Spencer, who had to break the news to her high school students that day.

Stanley Talley, of Bogulusa, La., who was eating lunch at Pig Out Inn Saturday, also recalled where he was when Challenger exploded.

&uot;I was sitting in a training meeting when that happened, and they broke in the meeting to tell us about it,&uot; Talley said.

As he listened to Saturday’s news on his truck radio, Kelly Holmes of Vidalia also reflected on that day in 1986. He described the Columbia explosion as &uot;devastating Š just like Challenger.&uot;

Keith Whisenant, 54, who moved to Natchez recently from Maryland to direct the Natchez National Historical Park, shared Holmes’ sentiments.

Seventeen years ago, Whisenant was conducting a training session at the Everglades National Park in Florida when Challenger exploded.

&uot;We all started watching it on TV.

It’s one of those images that is just burned into your mind,&uot; said Whisenant. &uot;It’s a tragedy.&uot;