Challenger Disaster 25th Anniversary: Where Were You?

I feel like putting some news since I’m too lazy to post about it.

A quarter-century after the Challenger disaster, the memories are still clear for those who witnessed the shocking loss of seven astronauts.

At a time when space shuttle flights had become fairly routine, the Challenger mission was intended to inspire a generation of students by putting the first teacher in space. TVs were turned on in classrooms nationwide on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986 so kids could watch Christa McAuliffe and her six crewmates begin their adventure. A New York Times poll estimated that nearly half of the 9- to 13-year-olds in America watched the launch at school.

Their shared celebration turned to stunned disbelief 73 seconds after liftoff. “I was in school and I remember actually that we were watching it on television as a class and everybody was so excited. And so as a class we watched it blow. I think I was in sixth grade, and it was devastating,” Stephanie Nicholas recalled in a recent AOL News on-the-street interview in Denver.

“I was in the apartment complex and I was in the swimming pool when I heard about it on the radio,” said Hank Hagerman in New Orleans. “I went inside later on and saw the clips from the news showing three pieces blown apart in the sky and where they landed.”

People who didn’t see it live found out what happened almost immediately and, like Hagerman, watched the horrifying images replayed over and over on television. The news spread with unprecedented speed in an era before texting, social networking and all the other forms of instant communication we now take for granted. Within an hour of the tragedy, 85 percent of Americans knew about it, according to a 1989 study published in Journalism Quarterly.

Where were you and what do you remember about the Challenger disaster? Click on the video above to see what people in cities across the country told us. Hundreds of readers have also shared their recollections with us by posting a comment on this article. Scroll down to see some of their stories and CLICK HERE to send us your Challenger memories.

I was in Mr. Votto’s class, he was so eager to see the first teacher launch into space. I remember seeing his disbelief and then a tear roll down his eye. As children, we really did not understand the significance of the event but Mr. Votto’s reaction never left me and marked a significant event in my life. — Dede

It was my son’s 6th birthday and we were so excited that it was a teacher workday and no school in Chesapeake, VA. We were at home parked in front of the TV. My son, Scott, daughter, Rebecca and myself watched as the shuttle launched and the TV camera showed the shuttle crew families, in the stands pointing up and smiling and everything seemed fine. Then there was a pop in the sky and smoke was everywhere. At that time the broadcasters didn’t really know what to say. I remember Scott saying that was just the rocket boosters making the shuttle go faster and then they detach and fall to the ground. That’s what we thought happened until the cameras started showing the faces of the families again. We knew it was horrible as we watched the smoke trail go downward the kids started commenting that the capsule they were in would parachute down. So we looked for the parachute. We didn’t see one. My son turns 31 today and I remember that day like it were yesterday. — smilmakr32

I still remember that horrible sight. I went to high school in central Florida and I was in my 11th grade history class and we were standing outside of the classroom looking up at the sky when it happened. At first we were confused, because throughout our life time we had watched many of the launches from our backyards and this was nothing like what we had seen in the past. We were shocked and the school was very quiet the rest of the day. A very sad day in history.

Years later when I was in college I was got a scholarship that was named after one of the brave Americans we lost that day. I’m proud to say I was a Ronald E. McNair scholar at Jacksonville University. — T. Brooks-Evans

I was underwater in the north Atlantic in a nuclear submarine on patrol. We heard about it from a radio broadcast and radio traffic. When we returned home for off crew, my brother in law had taped the launch, and subsequent explosion. It amazes me that I actually remember the exact moment that I heard about the explosion while on the boat. — js4024

I was in Engineering school heading to my Kinematics class when I saw a small crowd in front of a TV in the lobby of the building. We watched in silence the rain of smoking fragments, understanding fully that there was no chance for survivors. It was a very subdued class. Our professor had done some consulting for NASA and he started the class with the following statement, “You must understand that when you, as an Engineer, make mistakes, people can die.” It definitely stuck with me all of these years. — Rob ROy

I was teaching kindergarten when it happened. My students were in gym while I was watching it on TV in the teacher’s room. After they returned to class I sat them in a circle and explained why I was crying. I wonder if they remember it as vividly as I do. Years later I was teaching 5th grade. As an assignment I had my students research why their parents gave them their names. Christa found out she was named after the teacher astronaut. It touched her as much as it did me. — missfay10

Space shuttle launches had become so ‘routine” by 1986 that none of the broadcast networks even covered it live, only CNN did. I was anchoring the launch coverage with Mary Anne Loughlin and the then space reporter Tom Mintier, so it was we (CNN) who brought our countrymen the live coverage of the castastrophe. As the Challenger blew up, we were, simply, stunned into silence. Mintier stopped talking. We listened to the voice of Mission Control intone, “Obviously, a major malfunction.” There was simply nothing for any of us to say. We recovered quickly and went on to cover the disaster throughout the rest of the day and for days afterward. As we learned later of the cause (the faulty O-rings on the solid fuel rocket boosters), shuttle travel became safer, as it had following the 1967 (Apollo) launch pad fire and the disintegration of the Columbia on re-entry in 1993. That’s the way it’s supposed to work in a dangerous and pioneering endeavor. But on January 28, 1986, we were confused, saddened souls, looking for answers that were slow to come. —Bob Cain, CNN (retired)



6 comments on “Challenger Disaster 25th Anniversary: Where Were You?

  1. roxy189 says:

    That’s really sad. I feel so bad for the people on board the shuttle 😦 Their families must have been devastated. Clearly everybody who shared their stories were. Thanks for posting this, or I probably would have never heard anything about it.

  2. Of course I’m probably your only blog read that’s old enough to actually remember. I was at work with a bunch of scientists who had an experiment on that shuttle. I was just a “Technician’s Aid”, not a scientist, but I could feel how stunned and shocked they were when it happened. I didn’t know what was happening at first but I could feel their mood because they all knew immediately.

    • Andrew says:

      I think you mean the only blogging friend of mine that’s old enough to remember. But, I get what’ya mean. Really? Nice, well, try spreading the word. They deserve it. EXACTLY.

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