It seems like yesterday. I was a chemistry student at the University of Puerto Rico. I was at Dr. Muir’s Inorganic Chemistry laboratory getting ready to go to lunch when the call came in the lab’s black rotary phone by the window. I was devastated at the tragic loss of our astronauts. And so was the entire world. I thought about the pain of parents, children and relatives of all the astronauts. I thought about the students who lost a beloved teacher. I thought about the pain of the entire NASA family. This loss was personal.
The summer prior, I had been part of something that changed my life. I represented my island of Puerto Rico at the Space Life Sciences Training Program (SLSTP) 1985 at NASA, Kennedy Space Center. This was the first SLTP. As part of the program, undergraduate college students participated hands-on in space life sciences lectures (many by astronauts themselves), laboratory sessions, facility tours, and special projects with actual space shuttle experiments. We also conducted baseline data collection with the same tests performed on astronauts pre-flight and post-flight. Most nights we went to bed close to midnight. It was an intensive, adrenaline-filled program and an unforgettable experience.
Our space shuttle project included a study of the effect of weightlessness in plant growth. Supporting the investigators, we carefully processed the seeds and planted them in special growth chambers, loaded them on their corresponding Plant Growth Units (PGUs) to be placed in the shuttle middeck, rolled them out to be transported to the shuttle, and prepared to watch the launch the next day. Our excitement consumed any possible trace of exhaustion. Seeing the shuttle lift off surrounded by fire and smoke after the countdown thrill, feeling its rumble through your bones, tracing its curved trajectory in the blue skies as it dropped the solid rocket boosters down to sea, following its path until it became a speckle in the heavens, and then waving it Godspeed into space, was an experience engraved in my being to this day.
Our mission was STS-51F, Spacelab 2. It flew on July 29, 1985. Our space shuttle was Challenger.
Photo: SLSTP 1985 Students. Arrow points to author Yasmin Tirado-Chiodini.
This article and photo are provided under a Creative Commons License.