Memories of the Challenger

This is one page of many, check out the intro at I Remember Challenger for others.

This page currently edited by: Dagwood. Past editor: Junior

I was on line at college (Montclair State University in New Jersey) registering for classes when I heard of the disaster from fellow students.

From: Denise Soda

I was 13 years old at the time. I was in Eighth grade but I had stayed home "sick" that day so I could watch the launch (I went to a small private school that couldn't afford TV's). It was a big media event because of Christa McAuliffe. She was to be the first school teacher to go up into space. I watched with exictement for her as the shuttle lifted off and then was shocked and numbed as I watched it explode and tumble to earth. I stood up and kept staring until my grandfather came up from his house and said, "I think the shuttle just blew up...". It had, and it changed the lives of everyone who witnessed the tragedy.

From: Craig B.

I remember this day like it was yesterday: I was a senior in high school the day of the Challenger tragedy. I was at home skipping school and I turned on the television during the final minutes of the countdown. I had seen Space Shuttle launches before and this one seemed like no big deal, but I decided to watch anyway. When I saw the explosion on live TV and I thought at first that what I was seeing had to be normal, then I heard the announcer say something about a malfunction. I watched in horror as the craft disintegrated. I couldn't believe my eyes. I remember watching the footage over and over and I still had a hard time believing what I had saw.

From: Darrin

Not knowing what the nation, the world experienced when JKF was assassinated in '63, it's hard to make a comparison of both tragedies. I was attending a junior high school in Pinole, Ca. One of my cousins was watching the launch in his history class when the accident occurred. I learned of the news during passing period when he came up to me and said, "the shuttle had exploded!" I wasn't certain just how serious this was but I decided to pass this "interesting" tidbit of news to my teacher who's frantic response (and much to my surprise)was, "...was the teacher on board!?" Naturally, being a junior high student, I wasn't too abreast on the details of such news topics as a shuttle launch, not to mention the individual crew members. Besides we had seen many of the launches and landings go successfully. And then I got home after school and watched that awful footage of the actual moment of the explosion and seeing Christa McAuliffe's parents looking up toward what they thought was a nominal situation. All of the other eyewitnesses at Cape Canaveral had a look of such confusion and uncertainty. There was a moment of painful silence. And then the authoritative voice of the NASA announcer continued to report the system's status describing that Mission Control was looking very carefully at the situation, had no response or any kind of signal coming from the shuttle. "Obviously a major malfunction..." he said. He tried to remain tactful and as descriptive as possible and yet eyewitnesses still weren't sure what had happened. His voice began to quaver and a few studders interrupted his "professional" flow of reporting. It wasn't until he actually said, "the vehicle has exploded" that the horror had struck the eyewitnesses. I still vividly remember that grotesque, odd-looking column of smoke with its down-spirally tentacles left hanging in the air. Some days later, the nation mourned as a memorial in honor of the Challenger crew was broadcasted live. I remember watching that memorial and seeing all of the family members. I recalled seeing one of the crew's mothers who was so overcome with grief that she collapsed. And here was the U.S. President reaching down to the ground to help this woman up. That was quite remarkable. All of those images are as compelling today as they were sixteen years ago. I will never forget it.

From: Kareem

I was 18 in my senior year at Grant High School, MI. at 11:38 am EST an announcement came over the PA system it was lunch time and we all where in disbelief and shock, how could something happen like this. The Space Shuttle program was our nations space Pride since the Apollo days, I had never been to the space center or seen a shuttle launch in person, I always trying to catch it on the TV. I had always been interested in the space programs, and Rodger B. Chaffee was my hero. I always blamed NASA for allowing such a horrible incident to happen but as I grew older and learned more about the Solid Rocket Boosters (SRB). And how they work and how they are put together I learned that this was a very sad unforeseen, accident and it could not have been avoided. I now work for NASA and I see the pride and dedication that the people show everyday they many still work here today still feel the pain in their hearts for the lose of the 7 from the NASA family. If you have any question feel free to email me and I will try to answer them. Have a Great Day and never stop Believing

From: Al Gibson

I was not even born when the space shuttle exploded. I was born in June of 86. But both of my parents were so shocked. My real mom died seven years ago of cancer. So I totally know how Christa's two childern felt. My mom named my older brother, who was only three at the time, so my dad got to name me. And he named me Christa, afte Christa McAuliffe. So even though I never watched the explosion, or saw her on TV when she was chosen, I Know she had to have been a really inspirational person for the world to have almost come to a complete stop when she died.

From: Christa

My comment is that I feel absoultely horrified about what happened even though it happened when I was only one. I am doing research now and I feel so bad about what happened in those few split seconds. Thank god they died right away. This is an accident that I can watch and get a chill from it every time I watch it. It is so Sad!

From: Scott

I remember this as if it happened just yesterday. I was in 10th grade and on my way to my next class. As I walked in to my class I noticed that my teacher was crying and sitting in front of the TV. She had rented the TV from the Library so the class before me could actually see the launch. When I walked over to her I realized that this tradegy had happened. It was unbelievable, something I will never forget.

From: Myra

I was 27 when it happened. At first I thought it was just something minor and then relized that the shuttle had blown up killing all the crew. It was a terrible thing to happen but because of some misfortunes we better ourselves in life. Hopefully something like this never happens again.

From: Ross

I was 22, with my family, at my Grandmother's house dressing for my Grandfather's funeral. My Gram was always a space fanatic and despite the sadness of our day she still had the TV on, watching the launch. We all stopped getting ready to sit and watch. I remember seeing a shot of the spectators stands, Christa's mom and dad were there looking so proud. Her dad was beaming. After the explosion, the camera panned to the stands and focused on Christa's parents. Her mother was slowly breaking down, confusion, then the realization dawning on her face. Her father had his hand on her shoulder. I remember how his hand was tightening, squeezing her shoulder, trying to keep her from falling apart. He looked into the camera. It was like he couldn't bring himself to admit what he just saw although there was no denying it. He gave a strong, tight half-smile to the camera, like a man from a different time, he was not going to cry, not in front of these people. My heart breaks when I think of him most of all. He had to be so strong for so many people, his wife, his daughter, the people watching his every reaction, the cameras. I hope they have found peace in the knowledge that there is a world of people who will never forget...will always be affected by that cold day in January. We can never feel their pain, but in some small way we share it. Fittingly, my strongest memory of Ronald Reagan is his eulegy for the astronauts, and his reading of High Flight, by John G. Magee Jr. And while with silent lifting mind I've trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space. Put out my hand And touched the face of God

From: avalon

I was 6 years old and in kindergarten class watching it on tv. I remember it very well. I remember that I didn't know what happened right away because it was my first time seeing this sort of thing (space stuff) the teacher turned the tv off not long after it happened.

From: jessica

You know, people say you can't remember things when you are REALLY young, but I remember this! I was not yet two, and I honestly think it was one of my first memories. (I can remember weird things!) I remember sitting at my granparents, where I was watched every day until my parents got off work. It was so sad. I cried I think. A few years later I even recall watching it on Punky Brewster, and the thoughts came flowing back. This goes along with the terrible oil spills, the starving in Afica, and a few personal memories....As My Firsts......

From: Erika

It seems that every era can be defined by one specific tragedy. For my parents generation, the question is always "Do you remember where you were when Kennedy was shot?" For the children of my generation, the question is "Do you remember where you were when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?" I don't believe that anyone who witnessed this horrific tragedy will ever be able to erase the vision of the white smoke forming a Y, suspended in the air. I know I'll never forget it.

From: Liz

I remember that I was in elementary school and we were all excited because we got to watch the Challenger go up that day in class. It was so exciting because, after all, it was the first teacher to go into space. When I saw the explosion, I was horrified. I was nine when it happened and going into space was something that I really wanted to do at the time. It just broke my heart knowing and understanding what was going on around me. I remember a few weeks later my parents were going on a vacation. I was terrified to let them go because I was afraid of what could happen to the plane after having seen the shuttle explode. The entire experience really shook me up for awhile about aircrafts.

From: Jaime B.

Months before the Challenger explosion, I had a vivid dream that the shuttle would lose a gasket in space, sending the ship into a tailspin with all of the astronauts, never to be found. I never would have imagined that a similar tragedy would happen for real. The other irony was that Christa McAuliffe's young daughter urged her mother not to leave because something bad might happen and they would never see each other again. Today, I still wonder if Christa's family can ever recover.

From: J.C.

I vaguley remember that day. I was 5. I remember watching it on tv and seeing the pieces flying everywhere. One of the reasons why it hit everyone near me so hard was that Christa was from New Hampshire and I live in Maine. I don't ever remember my teachers telling us. I lived in a small town. Most of what I remember is what my parents have told me or what I saw on tv on the 10 year anniversary. GodSpeed.

From: Adrienne

I was just shy of 16 and sitting in driver's ed waiting for class to begin when a student ran into the room yelling, "Oh, my God! Did you guys hear about the space shuttle?" The explosion affected me for two reasons. Ever since the movie "The Right Stuff" came out, I was an avid fan of the space program. However, it was also the first time I was mature enough to understand that I was living through a critical moment in history. Another student in my high school class had known Christa McAuliffe personally and he led a moment of silence for the school about a week later.

From: Peter

At the time I attended middle school in New York City (P.S. 83 in the house!). I was in fourth grade, and my favorite teacher of all time, Mr. Mailman, had gotten a tv into our classroom so we could watch the launch live. I remember a second of being profoundly confused when it exploded. I literally did not believe my eyes for a second. One girl simply busted out crying. The thing that really hit close to home was the teacher who was on board. My beloved Mr. Mailman had actually been in line to be aboard. I don't think he was the #2 choice or anything, but I think all of us were struck by the fact that IT COULD HAVE BEEN HIM. I looked over at him and his face was green. I'll never forget the distinctive shape of the explosion, with those seven long trailers arching out to the right. A long while later (years?), they had figured out what happened, and I watched a press conference wherein a young scientist was trying to explain in layman's terms exactly what had happened. Finally, he picked up an O-ring from the table, dunked it in his glass of ice water, and just snapped that baby in half like it was made of glass. I got a cold cold chill. Nothing more really needed to be said. That was the only time I got a tear in my eye about it. I just couldn't believe something so tiny had killed so many people, so dramatically.

From: Kari

It was a surreal day. I was living in Anchorage, Alaska at the time. At 23, I was working as a DJ at a radio station. It was around 6:00 am local time when the news broke. Ironically, I heard it first on another station that happened to carry the launch live via the Associated Press radio network. I immediately called my boss, who was on the air doing the early morning show, when I told him to drop everything and switch to the ABC special feed, because the space shuttle blew up. He laughed, thinking I was pulling his leg. He was quickly silenced when he pulled the network into cue and heard the grim voice of Vic Ratner of ABC, describing the confused ground crew at the Cape, and the shocked observers who initially heard "obviously a major malfunction". I showered and raced to work early, as we had to completely change our regular programming for the rest of the day. We pulled the playlist, and instead played soft, melodic instrumentals for the most part, and most of the staff gathered in the employee lounge area, where a TV with rabbit ears kept offereing the same visual confirmation over and over again of the infamous, yet awesome explosion which took the lives of seven fearless Americans. I remember playing one particular song, called "Our Winter Love", by Bill Purcell and his Orchestra. This particular song had an ethereal edge to it, and it provided the perfect mood to acknowledge the tragedy. In some way, we had all lost our "Winter Love". A classroom full of students in New Hampshire saw a closed circuit feed of the launch, and so, witnessed the death of their teacher without any warning, no buffer zone, and no place to hide after the fact. I remembered wondering to myself, if the crew managed to survive the initial concussion of the explosion, what they might have thought in the minute or two it may have taken then to splash into the ocean. If I had been on that shuttle, I likely would have prayed and tried to quickly come to terms with my fate. But we may never know what those final agonizing seconds may have been like for the crew. Authorities have refused to release the audio tapes of the crew and their final moments, which I understand and accept, but how horrific it must have been for their family members to have gone through. When my shift came up that day, I found it very difficult to do anything more than go through the motions. It made issues like how bad would the Bears beat the Patriots in the Superbowl seem like an incredibly trivial item about which to converse. By comparison, it made me rethink almost everything I said that day, and many days thereafter. President Reagan's poignant speech that evening was a calming and comforting voice of reassurance and consolation to those who felt the pain so deeply. It is in times of tragedy, ironically, that our leaders seem to serve their purpose best. The Reagan speech allowed us all to mourn openly, begin healing, and get back to work in a manner of a few days. I remember, once the pictures clearly revealed the problem, a faulty o-ring on the starboard solid rocket booster, thinking that in this day of high-tech wizardry and enlightenment, that we were still vulnerable to our own vaingloriousness as a people. Somewhere, someone decided that the risk of letting the shuttle launch in such frigid conditions was outweighed by the need to pull off a launch on time, and with no last-minute snafus. I immediately felt a pang of sympathy for that person, because I couldn't imagine a worse feeling. If I, a DJ made a mistake, it may have resulted in a few seconds of dead air or stopping a tape that was playing on the air, but for this person, one mistake would no doubt haunt them for the rest of their life, probably every single day. The Space Shuttle program is now aproaching it's golden years, and the record of the shuttles is excellent when taken in context. But for a generation, it will always trigger the memory of that huge white ball of exploded gas, and the white vapor-trails that followed fragments of the ship to their watery graves. It is rare that news this big happens. In my lifetime, JFK, Martin Luther-King, and Bobby Kennedy were Assasinated. Each assassination seemed to numb the senses. The next huge news item was Watergate, and a few years later, the untimely death of Elvis Presley. The death of two popes in what seemed like a few weeks was big news, but the Space Shuttle explosion distinguished itself from these intermediate shockwave stories simply by magnitude and the advent of news coverage live and worldwide on CNN. The Globe got a little smaller on January 28th, 1986, and we all realized that no matter how precise the science, no matter how exact the math, that there is no such thing as 100 percent surety when it comes to any endeavour in which human beings are involved. If that thought served to humble us, and especially to compel rocket scientists and their ilk to err more on the side of caution, then perhaps the entire tragedy was not as meaningless as it felt that day.

From: James Jones

I was 24 and home on lunch break watching the launch when it exploded. I just stood up and dropped my plate of food on the floor. I knew immediately what had happened and how it happened when I saw the smoke and flame from the booster rocket on the replay. To this day I watch the shuttle take-off but not until the solids are off. I'm afraid another Challenger might happen.

From: Donald Washburn

Previous List or Next List

This is one page of many, check out the intro at I Remember Challenger.

Would You Like To Add Your Memories?

Got an idea for a page we don't have yet?

Submit your memories