On January 28th, 1986, the day after my 10th birthday, I was just one of millions of kids waiting to see the very first “Teacher in Space” broadcast from the shuttle Challenger. Some of the classrooms (though not mine) had televisions at the ready. The launch had been repeatedly delayed, and we didn’t know when it would finally happen.
That morning, there was an announcement over the loudspeaker: teachers in the classrooms with TVs should not turn them on. What was not announced, left to our families to explain at home, was that the launch had ended disastrously due to, in the words of public affairs officer Steve Nesbitt, “a major malfunction.”
Jenny Moss was a NASA engineer at the time, involved in the training of Challenger crew members Judith Resnick and Ellison Onizuka. In Taking Off, she evokes the atmosphere of late-1985 Houston, as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl, an aspiring poet in a town full of Science Geeks.
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
No one labels me as an eccentric, but that’s because they don’t know what’s in my heart.
In the late Fall of 1985, Annie is a high school senior in suburban Houston, and her comfortable life is on the verge of being completely upended. Her best friend wants her to go to college in Austin with her. Her boyfriend of two years wants her to stay in town with him. Her mother wants her to be friendlier to Donald, her mother’s boyfriend. Annie isn’t sure what she wants, except that she wants to be a poet, an idea she keeps secret from the engineers and space program geeks who populate most of her town. Then, she meets Christa McAuliffe at a dinner party. She can’t help but feel inspired by the famous “Teachernaut”, so inspired that she decides to take a road trip to Florida to see the Challenger launch. And maybe, while she’s at it, figure out where she wants to go.
This is a quiet novel, with a lot of introspection. As it opens, Annie is caught between conflicting impulses and would really rather hole up at home than deal with making decisions about her future. While it is a situation many teens will recognize, the story lacks action, making it less than compelling. Even the romantic subplot, with its potential for angst and drama, ends up feeling underwhelming. The book might find its audience with adults who remember the Challenger disaster and will appreciate former NASA engineer Moss’s attention to detail.