Shuttle launch links friends in tragedy
Teacher Joe Ciotti, a candidate for the fatal Challenger mission, plans to watch a liftoff
Joe Ciotti, Hawaii's Teacher in Space candidate for the seat that went to Christa McAuliffe on the ill-fated Challenger mission in 1986, said he "didn't have a chance for closure" after the shuttle exploded minutes after launch and killed all aboard.
"It was several days they were trying to launch, a very cold January," said the Windward Community College astronomy professor, explaining he also was lecturing at Saint Louis School so he had to return home before the launch.
"I didn't have a chance to bring closure in any way," he said. "The advantage is I was with my students and could connect with my students. It was a very important time for teacher and students to be together."
Ciotti and his wife will leave tomorrow for Cocoa Beach, Fla., to watch Teacher in Space Barbara Morgan lift off Tuesday on the space shuttle Endeavour
Bernadette Howard, who was Guam's Teacher in Space in 1985 and now directs WCC's Employment Training Center, will represent Guam as one of the 112 teachers gathering from across the country for the launch.
Hawaii's second Teacher in Space candidate in 1985 was Art Kimura, now education specialist with the Hawaii Space Grant Consortium at the University of Hawaii. In 1991 he created Future Flight on the Big Island and other major space programs, including the Onizuka Space Center in Kona.
Hawaii astronaut Ellison S. Onizuka was one of seven crew members who perished on the Challenger.
Ciotti said 114 Teachers in Space were selected in 1985 from about 20,000 applicants for the program, which NASA announced in 1984. They included two per state and two from each of the territories, the Department of State and Department of Defense, he said.
One person from the Bureau of Indian Affairs dropped out, and 113 showed up in Washington for about a week of training events and presentations, he said. "There was competition, but we all realized we were comrades, for the same purpose of encouraging education and inspiring science for youth."
Ciotti said the teachers would stand in line alphabetically by state, then alphabetically by the person in the state.
"That put me one person from Barbara Morgan, who is on this shuttle," he said. "Right next to me, coincidentally, was Bernadette Howard. Who would think, two decades later, there were all these connections?"
Morgan, an Idaho elementary school teacher, was McAuliffe's backup from finalists in the 1985 project. She remained with NASA's education program while teaching and completed two years of training in 1998 to become a member of the Astronaut Corps. She was assigned a flight and named mission specialist in 2002.
Ciotti said he did see a shuttle launch a few years after the Challenger tragedy.
"They brought us back again," he said, adding that they watched it from a site more than three miles from the launch pad. This time, he said, the teachers are going to be on a causeway, one of the closest places to observe.