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True Story: I Learned Everything I Know About Challenger Explosion from Very Special Episode of ‘Punky Brewster’ [Video]

NASA

Today (Jan. 28) marks the 28th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger breaking apart almost immediately after it launched.

To say that I remember that day – where I was, and what I was doing when I heard the news – would be a lie. I was three years old (almost four). I probably barely had any idea what was happening. But, I DO very vividly remember that it happened, and that’s all thanks to a very special episode of my favorite childhood TV show, “Punky Brewster.”

Barely 70 seconds into its flight, Challenger broke apart on this day in 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

The disaster was caused by a faulty seal in one of the rockets on the shuttle. Following the tragedy, there was a 32-month hiatus of the shuttle program.

Getting back to this very special episode of “Punky Brewster.”

I don’t know why I remember it so vividly. I mean, I was very young, but that episode (and the one where her friend got trapped inside of a refrigerator) has stuck with me for the 28 years since it originally aired.

In the episode, it’s career day at Punky’s school. So, Punky dresses as an astronaut (which is what she’s always wanted to be, according to her). I have to say that her career aspirations are a lot better than some of her classmates (who want to be a jewel thief, Rambo, and the lady who shows off prizes on a game show). Punky goes into her class and tells them all about why she wants to “touch the other side of the sky”.

Keith Meyers/The New York Times via NASA
Punky’s talk of space leads her teacher, Mike, to tell his class all about the Challenger, which is the shuttle that is set to launch soon, AND will even have a teacher on board! (I think that’s part of why I knew a lot about it, too. They made a big deal about it in preschool because a teacher was going to be on the shuttle.)

Mike promises the kids that he’ll bring his TV in so that they can all watch the Challenger launch together (which I think happened in a lot of classrooms across the country), and we all know what happened next.

The thing about the show, and possibly why it still sticks with me to this day, is that it explained everything that had happened in a way that was easy for kids to understand. In fact, I think it explained it in a way that both parents and teachers were having a hard time conveying to their kids and students.

Seven brave people died that day - Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik.

And I’ll always remember them, as will anyone who was alive at the time of the Challenger tragedy. I just might be the only person who remembers them because of an episode of “Punky Brewster.”

 

 

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