Weekly Feature

2015-12-30 / Editorials

New year an opportunity to look back at where we’ve been

Managing Editor

A s we prepare to turn the page and begin a new year, it is an opportunity to look ahead at what 2016 holds for us from a historical perspective.

Thirty years ago next month marked one of the darkest days in the history of the U.S. manned space program. Dogged by cold weather, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986.

Killed in the “major malfunction” were commander Francis R. Scobee; pilot Michael J. Smith; mission specialists Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka and Ronald E. McNair; and payload specialists Gregory B. Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe.

Jarvis was a graduate of the University at Buffalo’s electrical engineering program. Only one year earlier, he had given the university’s commencement address. After his death, students affixed a sign reading “Jarvis Hall” to the Engineering East building. The name was made official in 1987.

McAuliffe, the first civilian astronaut, was to be the first teacher in space, sharing her experiences with her wide-eyed students in a New Hampshire classroom. Remarkably, she was selected out of an initial pool of 110,000 applicants.

President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation from the Oval Office late that afternoon, postponing the verbose State of the Union address for less than five minutes of fatherly comfort. He spoke directly to the families of the crew.

“Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, ‘Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.’ They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us,” he said.

Half a world away, on April 26, 1986, a sudden power surge during a reactor systems test destroyed a portion of the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Ukraine. The accident and the fire that followed released massive amounts of deadly radioactive material into the environment.

Yet the year was not all heartbreak.

The National Football League adopted the instant replay. The Chicago Bears won the Super Bowl. American Debi Thomas won the World Figure Skating championship. For the first time, Beatles records went on sale in Russia. Jack Nicklaus captured the 50th Masters Golf Tournament. The movie “Top Gun” premiered. The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup for the 23rd time. Jim Kelly signed a five-year contract with the Buffalo Bills. Desmond Tutu became Anglican archbishop of Capetown, South Africa. Concentration camp survivor Elie Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize. New York Mets fans celebrated victory in the World Series in game seven against the Boston Red Sox – one game after the most infamous error by a first baseman in the postseason (by Bill Buckner).

Fifty years ago next year, in 1966, the Green Bay Packers won the NFL championship game – the last year before the event was renamed the Super Bowl. Roger Crozier (later a Buffalo Sabre) was named the most valuable player in the Stanley Cup playoffs despite that he and the Detroit Red Wings were defeated by Montreal in six games. The Baltimore Orioles won the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Growing stronger with each step, the U.S. space program successfully completed the Gemini program with Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins making their first flights on separate missions.

Forty years ago marked America’s bicentennial. Dorothy Hamill captured our hearts as well as the gold medal in figure skating at the XII Olympic Winter

Games. The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. Those crafty Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup (again). Home run champion Hank Aaron retired. Pete Rose hit just .188, but the Cincinnati Reds won the World Series.

To everything there is a season.

Reagan’s speech following the Challenger accident was one of his best. Also at the top of his game that day was CBS News anchor Dan Rather.

“Gone with the rush of the engines and the exploding sky. Gone. But theirs were lives that mattered,” he said.

Here’s to 2016 being a year that matters.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@bee news.com.)

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