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Christa McAuliffe’s Hometown Awaits Shuttle Launch With Anxiety, Prayers

September 23, 1988

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) _ When the Discovery blasts off, some residents in Christa McAuliffe’s hometown won’t watch. Others will pray. And one hopes it erases ″the image in the sky″ of the exploding Challenger.

McAuliffe, the teacher who died with six other astronauts in the explosion, was a heroine here. On launch day, Jan. 28, 1986, the city watched liftoff from homes, classrooms and grandstands at the site.

As pieces of Challenger fell into the Atlantic, the community of 32,000 plunged into mourning, and became shrouded in a sadness that took months to begin lifting.

They now look at Discovery’s launch with hope - and fear.

″I’m anticipating this launch with positive feelings, thinking, ’Gosh, let’s have a success. Let’s get it over with so we can put the other behind us,‴ said Betsey Rogers, who watched the Challenger blast from the grandstand at Cape Canaveral while chaperoning a class of third-graders including McAuliffe’s son, Scott.

Despite her wish, she said ″there is still a little lingering fear in my mind that something could go wrong.″

In addition to the third-grade field trip, the student body at McAuliffe’s Concord High School watched the Challenger on television in the auditorium.

There will be no organized school events this time.

″Perhaps our relationship to Christa will mean more classrooms will watch it, but I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal,″ said school Superintendent Mark Beauvais. ″We certainly aren’t going to push it to make it one.″

Challenger images are hard to suppress, Beauvais said, especially when he sees the Discovery astronauts on television.

″I see the Challenger faces, not the new ones, and I wonder what’s going through their minds - Are they worried? Are they confident they are going to make it? Are those the thoughts that were in Christa’s mind? - then quickly the picture flicks to something else, thank goodness, because that allows my mind to flick off to something else and not to have to relive that terrible experience,″ Beauvais said.

On launch day, ″I think we’ll all be going about our business and sneaking a prayer in for the new launch crew,″ he said.

McAuliffe’s widower, Steven, rarely mentions the tragedy in public and a spokesman for his law firm said he had nothing to say about the Discovery launch.

Clint Cogswell, principal of the elementary school in which McAuliffe’s son, Scott, is a sixth grader and daughter, Caroline, is a third grader, said he expects individual classes will watch the launch on television, but not Scott’s or Caroline’s.

Two sixth-graders say adults seem more protective than children, who see the McAuliffe youngsters as the same kids they knew before the tragedy.

Ben Provencal, 11, and Trip O’Shea, 12, both of whom watched the Challenger from the Cape bleachers, say they doubt anything will go wrong with the Discovery.

″I just want it to get over with,″ O’Shea said. ″If they have postponed it this long, it must be good.″

Deborah Provencal, another school chaperone at the Challenger launch, said she would like to see a launch in person, if only to ″erase the image in the sky″ of the explosion.

But she hopes a successful Discovery mission will not erase all the memories.

″I hope we always remember the danger is there and is real,″ she said.

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