Tucked in a drawer somewhere around here, I have an autographed picture of Judith Resnik. During the early 1980s, while other kids were swooning to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," I was writing fan letters to astronauts. And one of the original astronauts -- John Young, who'd flown on Gemini and Apollo and the first space shuttle -- had been kind enough to respond with a stack of autographed pictures. His own, for one. Guion Bluford, the first African-American in space, for another. And Resnik, the second American woman in space. I treasured these photos, would pull them out and stare at them, but return them carefully to their package when I was done. I was never a baseball card collector, but I understood the impulse.
Resnik was the "other woman" aboard the shuttle Challenger, when it blew up 25 years ago today. Most people remember the teacher Christa McAuliffe, understandably; her presence on the doomed flight, as an amateur among risk-taking professionals, compounded the sense of tragedy. But I felt more connected to Resnik. Her autographed photo had created a connection between us, in my mind. And while I would've been upset by the explosion, the fact that I possessed something she'd once touched enhanced my own personal sense of devastation.
Weird thing, though, is that I never cried about it. Not until 10 years later, in 1996, when I caught a TV special commemorating the anniversary of Challenger's demise. It was only then -- as an adult, in my first full-time newspaper job -- that I broke down and sobbed. I was probably weeping for myself; the explosion was the beginning of the end of my intensely held childhood dream, after all. I am not an astronaut, and I will never slip the surly bonds.
But Judy Resnik did.