Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenger 20th Anniversary: Remembering Seven Workplace Deaths

Twenty years ago today, I sat in a hospital room and watched seven American workers die on the job -- televised over and over again -- dozens, if not hundreds of times.

They were the astronauts of the space shuttle Challenger and my wife and I were in a room at George Washington Hospital waiting for my first daughter to be born. Nicole was apparently horrified by the tragedy as well, deciding to delay her appearance into this cruel world for another day. Her protest was rather counterproductive, however, because her birthday headline will forever be emblazoned with news of the previous day's tragedy and the horrific photos of the moment when -- 73 seconds after leaving for work -- Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik; Ronald E. McNair; Lt. Col. Ellison S. Onizuka; Gregory B. Jarvis; and the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, lost their lives.

Time Magazine devoted a full half page to the lives of each of the astronauts, and President Reagan gave one of the more moving speeches of his -- or most other presidencies: "They slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God" -- words far more poetic than have ever been dedicated by any President to any other workplace fatalities, and far more recognition than received by the fifteen to twenty other Americans who died that same day -- and every other day -- in American workplaces.