Field trip ends in horror


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Jan. 28, 1986 (UPI) -- The day began so beautifully Tuesday, so full of promise and excitement for the third graders from Kimball Elementary School in Concord, N.H., home of teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe.

After two days of delays, the shuttle Challenger was finally ready for liftoff and the 17 youngsters were going to see their classmate's mother rocket into space.


But the air of hope turned to horror and utter despair when Challenger was blown to bits by a massive explosion shortly after launch. The cheers of the pupils, rooting for the mom of their pal, Scott McAuliffe, turned to sobs.

From the grandstand of the VIP viewing site at the Kennedy Space Center, the teary-eyed children were led away in shock by their chaperones. They went home to New Hampshire with horrible memories and heavy hearts for Scott, who watched the disaster with his father and sister in a private location.

The Kimball third graders had extended their stay for a chance to see the oft-delayed shuttle launch.

''We are all here and we are excited,'' said Betsey Rogers, mother of one of the youngsters and a chaperone for the class, only minutes before liftoff.


It had been a fine field trip for the pupils, who raised part of the money for their Florida journey and received gifts from various merchants to fund the rest.

The children had played tourists since arriving last week. They giggled with Mickey Mouse at Walt Disney World and marveled at Shamu the Whale at Sea World, when they visited the parks in nearby Orlando.

They received red-carpet treatment from NASA at a pre-launch briefing with space agency officials and a special trip to the launch pad where Challenger awaited liftoff.

''I guess you could say this is an educational field trip,'' Rogers said before Tuesday's tragedy. ''They're learning an awful lot. They're missing whatever they'd miss in school, but all of us feel this more than makes up for what they've missed.''

Then came Tuesday.

The Kimball pupils, bundled up against the frigid wind at the shuttleport, were in a festive mood. They unveiled a banner honoring their friend's mother. They laughed and yelled, spelling each letter of ''C-h-r-i-s-t-a'' in pep-rally style.

They cheered with each passing minute in the final countdown and squealed with delight as Challenger roared off of the launch pad.

But then came the terrible explosion and the tears and the questions.


Such a tragedy strikes dumb even the wisest of adults. For 8- and 9-year-olds, the wonder must be aching.

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