Friday, January 29, 2016

Thirty Years Ago

TigerBlog was still in the newspaper business in 1986, so he was home on the morning of Jan. 28.

He was watching TV, actually, watching the launch of the space shuttle Challenger. If he closes his eyes, he can still see it, the apartment he shared with his college friend Ed Mikus Jr., the way it was set up, the couch, the kitchen table, the TV.

He can remember watching the 1986 Mets go to the World Series championship, all while he was down with a case of mono. And he can remember watching the Challenger explode.

It's a vivid memory, watching the launch that day.

He didn't watch all of the shuttle launches. They were commonplace by then.

That one, the Challenger launch, was different, because of the presence of Christa McAuliffe, the winner of the "Teacher in Space" contest. She was chosen out of 11,000 applicants to ride on the space shuttle and teach a lesson from space, and the media coverage of McAuliffe's role in this particular mission was extensive.

TigerBlog, like the rest of what was a huge audience, was lured to the broadcast to see the teacher in space. It was a great moment, an average woman from a school in New Hampshire who had trained to fly with the astronauts.

The launch seemed perfectly normal, until 73 seconds later, when the Challenger exploded. At first, it looked like a normal firing of the rockets to send the shuttle into orbit. That only lasted for a second, though, before it was obvious that was not the case.

TigerBlog remembers the voice of the NASA announcer, when he said "the vehicle has exploded."

It was stunning, shocking. Christa McAuliffe, and the rest of the crew, gone, just like that. Actually, maybe not just like that. There has never been a conclusive decision reached on whether or not the astronauts were conscious and alive for the nearly three minutes between the explosion and the impact in the ocean.

The Challenger disaster hit the American psyche hard. President Reagan gave an epic speech, during which he said that they had "slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God."

TigerBlog didn't realize until he saw it in several places that yesterday was exactly 30 years to the day of the Challenger disaster. Christa McAuliffe, had she lived, would be 67 years old now.

For the record, the other astronauts who died that day were: Francis “Dick” Scobee,  Michael Smith,  Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Gregory Jarvis.

Thirty years later, TigerBlog still is touched by the memory of that moment.

It takes a special, special kind of courage to get into a spaceship and be launched into space. One of TigerBlog's favorite movies is "The Right Stuff," which chronicles the Mercury astronaut program.

The Challenger astronauts? That's the right stuff.

There's no way to segue from that to Princeton Athletics and show the astronauts who died 30 years ago the respect they deserve, so TB will just go right into this weekend's basketball.

It's a big one for both the men and the women.

The women are at home against Brown tonight (7) and Yale tomorrow night (6). Tomorrow night is the annual "pink" game, so any fans who wear pink will be admitted for free.

Princeton hasn't played in 20 days, not since its 50-48 loss to Penn in the Ivy opener. That's a long time to stew on a loss, and that, combined with going through exams, should have Princeton rested, focused and ready to get at it again.

Brown got off to a 12-2 start this year before getting swept by Yale the last two weekends. Yale, 2-0 in the league, is 11-8 overall.

Princeton is 26-1 in its last 27 games against Brown and Yale. The Tigers, for that matter, are 45-7 in their last 52 games - 43-5 against the rest of the world and 2-2 against Penn.

The Tigers have at least one more game with Penn this year, but that isn't until March 8. Between now and then, Princeton can't really count on too many Penn losses, so each of the next six weekends is critical.

One subplot for this weekend - Alex Wheatley has 953 points, leaving her 47 points away from 1,000. The senior figures to get that this year easily (barring injury), though she'd have to have a huge weekend to do it in Jadwin Gym.

As for the men, they are at Brown tonight and Yale tomorrow, taking on the teams with the worst record in the league (Brown is 5-11, 0-2) and then the second-best record (Yale is 11-5, 2-0). Princeton actually has the best record, at 11-4.

Yale and Columbia are both 2-0 in the league. Princeton is 1-0, after its OT win over Penn three weeks ago. Like the women, the men are now starting out with six straight Ivy weekends and then Penn here on March 8.

 This year's men's race might be the most wide open that TigerBlog can remember. In most years, there has either been a prohibitive favorite or two or at most three teams in the mix.

This year, it seems that basically every game will be a challenge, home or away. What will win the league? 12-2? 11-3?

Whatever it is, teams need to be ready each night.

Starting tonight, with the women here and the men in Providence.

TigerBlog loves the Ivy League basketball weekends. This is the first of six straight.

It'll be over in a blink.

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