Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

So it's ten years ago and I've just turned 18 and I'm holed up in the administration offices of Rolling Hills High School, working on an Apple IIe. A week before, I'd managed to convince the teacher I was supposed to be working for to let me do something for him other than sit in the library and re-read "The Phantom Tollbooth."

I'm having a lot of fun. I'm using AppleWorks, and am setting up a database to automatically tabulate test results and spit out GPAs. Eight thirty-eight AM ticks by unnoticed. Just before the bell rings to send me off to my next class -- journalism, where I'm an editor -- I head out of the tiny side-office with the computer and into the lobby were the receptionist and the secretaries sit.

"G'bye," I say.

"Did you hear?" they say. "The space shuttle blew up!" Suddenly, I'm light-headed; confused and disoriented. Of course I heard them, but I say anyway: "What?" I run off to my next class. The journalism room has a TV and people are already gathered around it, watching Dan Rather point out a small flare on the side of the left booster rocket just before the orbiter is engulfed in a rolling white plume. The tape runs again and again.

My journalism teacher, Mrs. Grassinger, insists that we take the current events quiz that had been scheduled, and I'm sitting at my small desk unable to concentrate, the images playing over and over in my head.

Eventually, of course, most people get cynical. I like to think it's a form of self-protection, but even before the end of the period, I hear people getting bored. "Do they have to play it again? They never say anything new."

In the next issue of our school newspaper, one of the other people on staff writes an editorial objecting to the use of the word "heroes" to describe the astronauts. It should be reserved for those, say, who are fighting famine in Ethiopia. A lot of people agree with her.

But I don't. Not then and not now.

The Challenger blew up ten years ago today. I still remember everything.

I remember the day after the accident, the editorial cartoonist for the LA Times, Paul Conrad, draw a picture of the explosion -- you know the shape -- with a hand emerging from the end, its finger pointing upward.

I remember the tape of "Go with throttle up." I remember a guy -- Richard Feynman, it turns out; before I'd read his books -- dipping a piece of plastic into his ice water to show how it stiffens, how the same thing can happen to an O-ring. I remember the jokes. "NASA: Need another seven astronauts." I remember the talk that some of the crew might have lived until the cockpit hit the water.

I remember the slow-motion TV pictures of the crew walking to suit-up. The "first truly diversified crew" -- white guy, black guy, civilian woman -- going into space.

Space. A hundred years ago man couldn't even fly and these people -- including a school teacher -- were going into space. The nerd's dream. My dream.

I think the Challenger explosion affected everybody my age, including the cynics, more than they could have imagined. Seven lives, gone in an instant; joy becomes confusion, confusion becomes grief. The idealization of America, what this country could accomplish, was damaged beyond repair that day.

I don't remember Viet Nam or Watergate or the assassinations of JFK or MLK or RFK. I don't remember George Wallace or Charles Manson or even Gerald Ford. They're only people and places in history books.

But I do remember the shuttle. I will always remember the shuttle. It represents everything America can be, and how incredibly fragile it is.

I will not forget.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is greg@eod.com. I'd love to hear from you!

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