Sunday, February 2, 2003

Painful memories for teacher's hometown

The Associated Press

CONCORD, N.H. - The hometown of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe relived horrible memories as space shuttle Columbia broke apart Saturday, four days after the anniversary of the doomed 1986 flight that was supposed to launch the first teacher into space.

"God, it's like deja vu," said Douglas Woodward, who was in the VIP viewing stands at Cape Canaveral 17 years ago this week with his son, a third-grade classmate of McAuliffe's son, Scott. "Those poor people. Another whole crew."

Concord was a focal point in the days before Challenger's tragic launch because of McAuliffe, chosen from thousands of teachers to be the first one in space. The city of about 40,000 honored her in a parade and Concord High School held an assembly when she left her classroom for full-time NASA training.

Ben Provencal, who was a third-grader on the class trip to the Jan. 28, 1986, launch that Woodward chaperoned, said he has tried to prepare himself for another space disaster since watching Challenger explode 73 seconds after takeoff.

"I've always waited for the next thing to happen," said Provencal, whose image, staring wide-eyed into the sky with an oversized Challenger cap on his head, is one of the enduring photos of the Challenger tragedy.

"I conditioned myself - maybe that's how I dealt with Challenger. But it's still horrible," said Provencal, now a 25-year-old special education teacher in Concord.

McAuliffe is buried on a hillside in a Concord cemetery, not far from where the state built a planetarium in her honor. Her widower, Steven, is a federal judge who has remarried and still lives in Concord.

He rarely speaks publicly about the disaster and has an unlisted telephone.

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