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Tense Students Cheer Launch

September 29, 1988

Undated (AP) _ Schoolchildren in classrooms and assembly halls clapped, cried, prayed and held their collective breaths in anticipation and relief Thursday as they watched the space shuttle Discovery lift off from the Kennedy Space Center.

Cheers and applause broke out among one-time students of America’s next Teacher in Space as they watched the liftoff from classrooms in McCall, Idaho, where they saw the televised explosion of the Challenger 32 months ago.

″We never had any doubt about putting the kids in there again,″ said McCall-Donnelly Elementary School Principal John Wall. ″We just needed to do it. I’m relieved everything went well. I was more worried than I wanted to admit.″

Seventh graders in Rosemary Eskridge’s science class at Eisenhower Middle School in Oklahoma City were sophisticated enough to hold their cheers and applause until after Discovery separated from its booster rocket. It was at the separation stage that Challenger blew up.

″The reactions ranged from crying to hiding their eyes,″ Donna Hanebut a third grade teacher at Uintah Elementary School in South Ogden, Utah, said of students she led on an expedition to space camp in Alabama last summer. ″There was lots of excitement and apprehension.″

″I remember the Challenger and how it blew up,″ said fifth-grader Shannon Gates at Morris Elementary School in Huntsville, Ala. ″And I was scared that maybe the Discovery would blow up, and I asked, ’God, please don’t let this happen. We don’t need any more people killed in Discovery.‴

Teacher Barbara Morgan, in Florida for the launch, said her students back in Idaho were excited and ″wish they could be here with me.″

Selected to be the next Teacher in Space after Christa McAuliffe was killed in the Challenger explosion, Mrs. Morgan was enthusiastic about being part of a future crew.

″I plan on being there,″ she said. ″When they’re ready to send me, I’ll be there.″

After watching the Challenger explode in January 1986, Mrs. Morgan’s former students, now 11-year-old sixth-graders, were apprehensive about Thursday’s launch.

″I was excited the last time,″ said April Beaver. ″Then I got depressed after it exploded. I was really relieved it went up safely.″

Students at Dick Scobee Elementary School in Auburn, Wash., watched the liftoff in tense silence.

″There was a lot of anxiety,″ said Principal Don Lapinski. ″My stomach was in a knot, too.″

The school in the Seattle suburb was renamed for the pilot of the Challenger.

Pink-clad students at Washington Elementary School in Willmar, Minn., where shuttle astronaut George ″Pinky″ Nelson attended fifth and sixth grades, counted down final seconds to liftoff and then ″the entire student body started clapping″ when the shuttle rocketed away, said Principal Paul Olberg.

″When I saw it go up, I thought it was going to fall back down but it didn’t,″ said 13-year-old Albert Hardison at the middle school in Oklahoma City. ″I’m glad it made it.″

Seventh grade science students at Miami’s Carver Jr. High were apprehensive at first. But the 52-member class counted down in unison as Discovery blasted off, cheering wildly at lift-off.

Jean Bendezu, who plans to be an astronaut, said he was impressed with the takeoff.

″It was good - they had everything planned and it all worked out good and fine,″ Jean said. ″Now I want to go to the university and learn about astronauts, space and gravity.″

″I had my fingers crossed the whole time,″ said Christy Holt, a fifth- grader at Julian Harris Elementary School in Decatur, Ala.

The school is on McAuliffe Drive named for the Challenger teacher. Reba Wadsworth said her fifth-grade students chose to be called ″the Challengers″ and designated class colors as red, white and blue in remembrance of the crew.

″Pay up,″ said one student to another at Morris school in Huntsville. ″You owe me a dollar. It made it. I told you it would.″

″I feel pretty good that they are trying it again,″ said David Edwards, a Morris student. ″After one mistake, it doesn’t mean you don’t do it again. I’m glad. I would like to live on the moon some day.″

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