25 years later, St. Louis area residents recount Challenger explosionwww.STLtoday.com Saturday, January 29, 2011
Paul Wilhite was an eighth-grader at a small Catholic grade school in Hermann, Mo., when the space shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean 25 years ago.
"When I look back at the '80s, it was one of those pivotal, seminal moments," he said. "You had the elation and excitement followed by the devastation and tragedy."
After the explosion, Wilhite, 39, of St. Peters, said he and his classmates went to church to pray for the families of the seven astronauts who were killed. And his attitude about his studies changed: Science became much more interesting to him.
"It became about dedication and taking risks, self-sacrifice for the sake of science," he said.
It inspired him to pursue a career as a biochemist, and he now works at EMD Millipore in Weldon Spring.
Wilhite, his wife, Sandra, and their daughter Olivia, 11, were among dozens who came to honor the Challenger crew and their families on the disaster anniversary Friday at the Challenger Learning Center-St. Louis. The center, situated in Ferguson, opened in 2003 with the goal of inspiring a lifelong interest in science, technology, engineering and math in young people. Forty-eight centers are spread across the world, and each year about 400,000 schoolchildren visit them.
Many of the people who came to the event said they home-school their children and had signed up for one of the free public missions, where they got to act out roles similar to mission control staff or to experience life on a space station.
During orientation, center director Tasmyn Scarl Front showed a slideshow of the Challenger, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. Among the astronauts was the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe.
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