It’s been 30 years?


On this day in 1986, the space shuttle blew up shortly after launch.

I was a graduate student in Oregon. I remember it vividly: starting a normal day in the lab with NPR on the radio, as we would, and the news came on. We spent most of the morning staring out the window, listening to the reports coming in, and didn’t get much work done that day.

Where were you?


  1. says

    I was watching in the evening news on black and white TV with my paretns. I was ten years old, so I do not rememer much of it.

  2. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I was teaching second quarter general chemistry, and being a Tuesday, preparing for the two lectures the next day. Heard about it at work, then saw it on the news that evening.

  3. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    I was in 5th grade. At the small Catholic school I attended, they made us go home for lunch (no cafeteria), so I remember walking into my grandparents’ apartment and seeing it on the noon news. I also remember after walking back to school just sort of standing there, stunned, staring at the sky until they let us back in for the afternoon.

  4. says

    Portland, Oregon. Our cable carried the NASA feed for events like this, and I tuned in to watch the event. I saw it on TV as it happened. For hours afterward the NASA feed carried only the picture of the sky with the debris trails slowly dissipating.

  5. says

    I had just turned up on the University of Houston campus to start my day, and a friend of mine walked out of the Student Center Satellite and without even saying hi, said “The space shuttle just exploded.” Went in to the jam-packed main TV room to watch the live coverage.

    I remember people driving with their headlights on (this was before most cars just automatically kept them on always) for months.

  6. hkdharmon says

    I was in PE class in high school trying to avoid lifting weights. The gym teacher brought in an AV cart (an unusual sight in gym class) and stopped everyone so they could watch the launch.

  7. joel says

    High school. A few classes had been watching the launch on TV, so after the explosion the whole school knew within minutes. By the end of the day, “Did you hear the space shuttle blew up?” had become a joke, since everyone had been telling each other about it all afternoon.

    Yah, my school was kind of cynical.

  8. says

    I was a Junior in high school and we were watching it live during one of the science classes. I was supposed to have been in Eng Lit but some of the nerdier students had been given a pass to skip our regular classes to go watch.

  9. Alverant says

    I was in grade school and my mother promised me we could go to the pet store and get some gerbils for my room. I was more focused on that then the shuttle. My school didn’t mention it because they thought it would scare the younger children.

  10. RoughCanuk says

    Brussels, Belgium, working at the Canadian Delegation to NATO. Broke on the BBC news.

  11. microraptor says

    I was in kindergarten, and they brought in a TV. I wasn’t sure what was going on, though.

  12. Jethro says

    I was in kindergarten. One morning there was a woman I had never seen before in the classroom. Our teacher had us sit in a circle, and the woman asked if there was anything upsetting us. I raised my hand and she called on me first. I complained about my neighbor’s aggressive dog and said I wished it would run away and get hit by a car. She said that wasn’t very nice and my neighbor would probably not like if that happened, to which I reluctantly agreed. Then she called on one of my classmates.

    He immediately began bawling about how the Challenger blew up (I believe his mom knew Christa McAuliffe personally, so he was devastated). I pretty much instantly knew that this was the real reason the grief counselor was there, and no one gave a shit about my neighbor’s dog.

  13. says

    I was a sophomore at Concord High School, where Christa McAuliffe herself taught, at the time. I was in the school cafeteria with a hundred or more others watching live when the shit hit the fan. Obviously, it was mortifying and surreal. I was a fan of the space program at the time, and I blogged extensively about the event in 2007 when PZ and I were both with If anyone is interested in my first-person perspective, feel free to go to and search for “Challenger” or friend me on Facebook ( as I’m reposting all six entries as notes today.

  14. erichoug says

    Katy High school, Science area of the new expansion, Right in front of the big windows on the south east side of the building. I was in the hall during class time for some reason and another student, who I only slightly knew, came around the corner and said ‘The Space Shuttle blew up!” He walked past me and down the stairs. When I got to class, everyone was crowded around a TV watching the news.

  15. dccarbene says

    Grad school. Ottawa. Spent that morning in the library doing literature searches with the old paper Biological Abstracts and Sciene Citation Index. (Oh, the memories.) Therefore blissfully ignorant until got back to the lab. “Did you hear the ‘good’ news?” one of the other students said. But from the look on her face I knew it was one of those days, like John Lennon or 9/11, that you know immediately you will never forget.

  16. chigau (違う) says

    At work.
    Someone came in and said, “The shuttle blew up.”
    I said, “That’s not fucking funny.”
    Then we turned on a TV to watch the footage.
    Later that day, I was hit in the face by a piece of athletic equipment, requiring 6 stitches.

  17. Denverly says

    6th grade, Mrs. DeWitt’s science class. We were watching it live because they had made a big deal about a teacher going to space and all. I watched the fall of the Berlin wall in Mr. Ritchie’s 10th grade English class, too. I never realized as a kid that I was watching history happen. It’s really something to look back on now.

  18. says

    I first heard about it walking through Place Riel on the University of Saskatchewan. A radio was playing one of the local stations, and it mentioned Challenger blowing up. And thinking about that reminds me how much the main and basement floors of Place Riel have changed over the last 30 years.

  19. blf says

    I was at home in California, preparing to go to work, and listening to the launch on the radio (San Francisco station KCBS, who, at the time, had a excellent science correspondent). (Three decades later, I still do not have a TV, can’t stand the silly things.) Funnily enough, I don’t recall the instance it blew up, my memory says I was in another room, but that does not seem very plausible, as it was only a short time after take-off so I find it hard to believe I wasn’t still listening closely.

    When I finally did arrive at work, quite some time later, many of my colleagues were gathered around a luggable TV in the lounge. (I don’t recall there being a TV in the lounge normally, so I have no idea where it came from.) I did watch a re-run of the take-off and eventual explosion, and as I left I overheard one of my best friends say “He’s probably taking it harder than most.” I believe she may have been correct.

  20. besomyka says

    I was 8 and in second grade at a private Catholic school. I had heard about the teacher and was interested in space and astronomy. They had one of those TV carts in each room, and we all gathered around to watch it.

    Once it was clear that something went wrong, the teacher turned off the TV.

  21. dogfightwithdogma says

    I was sitting in the lunchroom area of the newsroom at the newspaper I worked for at the time. Was reading a book on space exploration while eating my lunch when one of my fellow reporters came into the room and told me that the Challenger had just exploded. I put my bookmark in the book and went into the newsroom to watch the TV news coverage. That book I was reading to this day has the bookmark in the same location I placed it on that day. I never finished reading the book.

  22. martin50 says

    I learned at the nursing station of the hospital ward where our son had just been born. My recollection is that there were very few details and it was only clear later that all were lost.

  23. Larry says

    I was at work when we heard about it. There wasn’t an available TV so I went out to my car to listen to the radio reports. It wasn’t until that evening when I got home that I saw the pictures of the launch. That “Y” in the sky is indelibly etched into my mind as is the picture of one of the booster rockets spinning circles in the air as it fell. I still tear up when I see them.

  24. Michael says

    I was in the Student Union Building at UBC, and overheard two female students discussing it.

    However I read recently that our memories are malleable, particularly when recalling and repeated recalling of significant events. So even though it seems easy to recall, apparently tests have shown that we probably don’t recall it the way it actually was. A professor at one university did this test with students, getting people to write down what happened, then keeping the papers, then asking them to recall what happened several years later. Not only were many recollections different, but he was accused of having forged the papers by some of the students.

  25. says

    I walked thru the waiting room of the X-ray department at Worcester Memorial Hospital where I was servicing a cardiac cath lab and noticed a lot of attention being paid to the TV. And there it was in all it’s ugly beauty.

  26. Mobius says

    I was repairing a circuit board and had the radio playing, but not paying close attention. I caught part of a new report. I went and told some co-workers “I think the space shuttle exploded.” Sadly, I was correct.

  27. robertmatthews says

    I was at my day job as a typesetter (back when there were typesetters) for a student newspaper when I heard the news. Later on I went to my night job at a newspaper-newspaper, where I was working the Associated Press newswire, and had to collate and edit the whole thing into a story for the next day’s edition. It’s a pretty vivid memory, since it was pretty much all I got to think and read about all day.

  28. jimb says

    I was in an airport on my way to, or from, a vacation to Hawaii before returning to college.

  29. madscientist says

    I was watching the launch on TV and was horrified to see the thing go up in smoke. The ensuing coverup seemed like something out of Stalinist Russia.

  30. zathras says

    I was on my way home from work and stopped at a camera store to pick up a telephoto lens I ordered. When I walked in I saw several people standing in front of a TV. Curious I walked over to see what they were watching and got there just in time to see a replay of the Shuttle blowing up.

  31. Al Dente says

    I was at work when it happened. It wasn’t until I got in my car to drive home and turned on NPR as usual that I knew about it.

  32. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    I was at work for a disk drive head designer subdivision. Walking back to my cube from a meeting, was asked if I was aware of the tragedy that Challenger had exploded on take off. My reaction was the skeptical, “you’re kidding, ;-( right????” With serious replies I became convinced. The library office down the hall had a monitor showing the CNN coverage, with multiple collegues clustered around watching and moaning. The AV dept set up a video projector in the cafeteria to project the news coverage, for the rest of the afternoon. I tried to console myself by disregarding the astronauts (because what could I do about them) and tried to be thankful the Hubble was still delayed from being on that launch.
    I still question myself, how I could be so heartless to have valued a piece of hardware over 7 human lives. Telling myself, I didn’t, I was trying to console myself from the grief by seeking a single sliver of silver behind the dark cloud. Crying out of grief wouldn’t help so find some comfort. Out of desperation I latched on to a straw.

  33. empty says

    I had just finished teaching a communication systems class and was hanging out with the students watching the launch on TV.

  34. Menyambal says

    I can’t remember where I was, really, and it probably didn’t have a TV. But I do recall that I had tried to get a teacher friend of mine to apply for that teacher’s seat, and I was glad she had not gone. She’s still my friend, and she still reminds me.

    I do recall where I was the time the next Shuttle went up, and how we all brought in a radio and how the traffic stopped for a while.

  35. says

    We had a student at the college where I was working at the time, who was really into space stuff. He was deaf, and came crashing into the room where I was hanging out talking with a few friends. His hands were flying all over the place and he was literally bugging his eyes out at us – then he ran back out of the room. We all followed him; I had no idea what was going on. Nobody thought to translate for me. So we were all very excited when we skidded around the corner to one of the break areas where there was a TV showing the recognizable split explosion-cloud. It took a while to sink in.

    I remember that day was one of the beginning blows in my coming to hate “constant news” cycle: the whole day was nothing but uninformed speculation about “ooh, it blew up.” “well, yes, it sure did!” “what do you think made it blow up?” “It’s hard to tell” (repeat) It was the moment that I realized how bad the filler to information ratio of television news had gotten.

  36. says

    If anyone reading this hasn’t read Richard Feynman’s minority report on the disaster, it’s really quite a thing. Later, as he was dying of cancer, he wrote down the whole story of how the relevant information was spoon-fed to him. It’s still a fascinating tale. His report is brilliant, though. If you can’t find it elsewhere there is a cached copy on my website here:
    (I did an article back in 2006 in which I name this one of the two best technical articles I’ve ever read, the other being Chuck Spinney’s “pentagon death spiral” budget analysis. My commentary is here: )

  37. robro says

    I don’t remember where I was specifically. I may have been at work, but possibly at home because I recall watching a live broadcast of the launch. (There were TVs at the office, so it could have been either place.) I first noticed the unfamiliar billowing white smoke trails going off in oddly different directions. I had seen a few launches on TV but never seen anything like that. I also recall a short delay between the launch and the announcement of a problem when there didn’t seem to be any alarm in the crowd watching at the Cape.

    Marcus Ranum – Have you ever read about Edward Tufte’s contribution to the investigation? It was Tufte’s team of students that uncovered the fact that poor information design and presentation had masked the severity of the O-ring problem for some time. The engineers had all the information they needed to understand the risks but they couldn’t see it because of the way they presented the data. By the way, he takes issue with Feynman’s contribution…particularly his grandstanding demonstration of the frozen O-ring. I guess great egos are like that.

  38. Terska says

    I was in S Florida. I walked outside to see the launch and I had just missed it. One could see launches from Palm Beach County really well. The vapor trail looked weird, so I turned on the radio and heard the sadness and silence of the news readers on NPR.

  39. Paul K says

    I watched it live on the NASA cable channel. I was alone at the time. I know memory is a tricky thing, especially for us folks over 50, but my recollection is that it was quite some time (at least several seconds, though it seemed far longer) before the people on the ground in Florida, or even the announcer on the feed, realized that something had gone wrong. I was saying to the TV, ‘Oh my God, it just blew up!’ And I hoped I was somehow mistaken. When the faces of the crowd clouded up, I just cried and cried along with them.

    I was 25 years old, and had grown up with the space program. In high school, I had worked seriously toward a chance at becoming an astronaut, though other things got in the way.

  40. says

    I was watching a cricket match (Australia v New Zealand) on television at my family’s home in northern Tasmania. The coverage was about to change to the usual 6pm news, but a technical fault meant that about one second of the explosion footage appeared on-screen before they started rolling the opening credits, which was enough to tell me the latest shuttle launch had ended disastrously.

  41. Menyambal says

    Marcus Ranum, thanks for the links. I’d read Feynman’s book on his activity in the investigation, and appreciated finding out more. He said he did the O-ring demo knowing that General Kutyna had given him the push toward cold O-rings, and thinking that an astronaut had told Kutyna on the down low. The PM site has Kutyna saying that it was Sally Ride, and that she had to pass him the information quietly. So somebody knew, at least afterward, and other people knew they had to be quiet about it.

    Robro, thanks. I will look up Tufte.

  42. says

    I was in first grade, standing in the doorway of our school Library watching a broadcast of the launch. I was absolutely in love with the space program, had memorized all of their names, had a scrapbook of Shuttle launches, toys, stickers, etc. I remember standing there in shock, and then crying for a very long time.

  43. says

    I was sewing our S-3 into his dress blues so he could get an official photograph taken. From the waist down he was still in cammies and we were making fun of what he looked like when the squadron commander came in and said, very quietly, “The space shuttle just blew up.”

  44. militantagnostic says

    I was at work (Dome Petroleum) in Calgary and there was a Chinook (warm west wind from the Pacific heated by condensation of water vapour as it rises over the mountains and by adiabatic compression it descends the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies). I don’t remember who told me the shuttle had blown up, but I do remember shortly before that an engineering technologist remarking to me in the washroom that it was colder in Florida than it was in Calgary.

  45. springa73 says

    I was in 5th grade, and if I remember right we had just come in from recess and were getting ready for class when another kid said that the space shuttle had blown up (I don’t know where he learned it from). I think I blurted out something like “that’s impossible!”, or maybe I just thought it. I remember lots and lots of kids and teachers crowding into one classroom that had a TV, and watching the coverage showing the explosion over and over again, and even the experts on TV at the time being at a loss to explain how it had happened. I was really into space science and the space program as a kid, and I was just stunned and depressed and confused. As a kid, I also had a somewhat naive faith that the people in charge of something as big and important as the space shuttle couldn’t and wouldn’t make the kind of short-sighted, risky decisions and blunders that would risk a catastrophic and fatal accident like that. There was definitely some disillusionment on my part in the aftermath, along with sadness for the loss of life and the blow to the space program.

  46. says

    Where were you?

    I didn’t hear about it until evening. My family never watched TV in the mornings (it happened at 8:30AM), and nobody talked about it (or probably heard about it) during the day at college. It was TV news in Canada, but not as big a story as in the US, so fewer people talked about it.

    But I did see 9/11 as it happened. I was window shopping (9PM in South Korea) and passed an electronics store. I rushed home to see if my American roommate was okay. He wasn’t.

  47. neuroturtle says

    It’s my earliest recognizable memory; I was a week shy of four years old. There were clouds on TV and my parents were really upset.

  48. Victorious Parasol says

    I was in high school. I heard about it just after lunch. The first kid who said anything had a reputation as a prankster, so I first thought he was making a really tasteless joke, but he was serious.

  49. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I was also in Oregon.

    My junior high school science teacher had the TV on in the room when I came in. The actual explosion had happened a bit before (what time was it?) but the first I knew about it was walking into that room and seeing twenty or twenty-five other kids already staring at the screen while the news footage of the launch, break-up and explosion was replayed over and over.

    I’ll never forget it.

  50. Rob says

    Grad school, preparing labs for the impending influx of undergrad students. We spent most of the day staring walls, looking at each other and muttering fuck. I didn’t feel that way again until the morning I woke up to see planes flying into buildings…

  51. redwood says

    I was in Tokyo teaching English to the first three Japanese astronauts who had been chosen to go into space (okay, more like practicing English—Mamoru Mohri had a Ph.D. from an Australian university, Takao Doi had a Ph.D. from a US university and Chiaki Mukai was a well-known heart surgeon). They were devastated when I next spoke with them and they all realized that had it happened a couple of flights later, one of them would have been killed. Because of the delay in launching space shuttles after that, they went to live in the US for a couple of years and got a lot better at English than they did from studying with me. All three of them eventually went into space safely. They were certainly the most elite students I’ve ever had.

  52. Nick Gotts says

    I have no specific memory of it at all. 1986/01/28 was a Tuesday, and the UK is 5 hours ahead of Florida, so it would have been 16:39 – so I was probably at work, and if so, likely didn’t hear about it immediately. But I may have been at home struggling to complete my D.Phil thesis, or away at a workshop on qualitative spatio-temporal representation and reasoning in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia (part of what was then Yugoslavia) – I think that was in early 1986. I do remember hearing Reagan mouthing some sentimental and nationalistic nonsense about it – the unfortunate astronauts ‘ “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God” ‘ – he was quoting from a poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr. I also remember watching the first shuttle launch, and being pretty excited about it, thinking (quite wrongly) that this was the start of a making human space travel, if not routine, then certainly a lot easier. The Challenger disaster was probably the start of a disillusioning process for many, including me.

  53. Cardinal Shrew says

    I was at a friends house playing Atari. Our high school had let out early because of snow. Another friend called us and told us to turn on the news the shuttle blew up. I didn’t believe him.

  54. Brother Ogvorbis, Fully Defenestrated Emperor of Steam, Fire and Absurdity says

    I was at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Washington, D.C., having arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I came out from under the anesthesia and was really wierded out. The recovery room was silent. And on the television screen was an out of focus grey mushroom? against a light blue sky. My eyeglasses were somewhere else, and it took me the longest time to realize that I really was awake. Eventually, the commentators began talking again and I realized what had happened. And I cried.

  55. David Eriksen says

    I was in 3rd grade. The teacher brought a TV into the class room specifically because of the Teacher in Space program and we were watching the live feed. The TV was shut off almost immediately after the explosion and that was when I decided I didn’t want to be an astronaut when I grew up.
    As an aside, a girl I met a few years later finished astronaut training not too long ago. That kinda blows my mind.

  56. Thomathy, Mandatory Long-Form Homo says

    I was almost 9 months old.

    I learned about the disaster at an early age, though. Roberta Bondar visited my grade school when I was in grade 5, I think, and I was mesmerized. An NASA astronaut who was both Canadian and a woman? Anyone really can do anything, I thought. I was obsessed with space for a little while thereafter. And, even today, it’s still so damn fascinating.

    I remember being really sad when I learned about the disaster …I was still naïve; exploration was supposed to be fun, not deadly.

  57. Friendly says

    I was home from school for some reason I don’t recall. Someone called our house to let us know about the tragedy and I turned on the TV. I left it on all day, continuing to watch the morbid spectacle long after anyone had anything new or useful to say about it.

  58. Terska says

    One of the engineers that warned repeatedly not to launch was interviewed on NPR last night. It ruined his life.He is racked with guilt and depression. He is 89 years old now. When I listened to him I thought that no one in the White House probably ever suffered from that kind of guilt even though they pressured NASA to launch so Reagan could brag about having a teacher in space during that night’s state of the union address. One of the guys that did all they could to save those lives feels like a total failure because he didn’t succeed in persuading his bosses to delay the launch.

  59. says

    “A major malfunction” turns 30

    January 28, 2014 at 11:37 am

    On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was ripped apart 73 seconds after it lifted off. All seven astronauts on board lost their lives, probably when the still-intact and depressurized crew cabin crashed into the Atlantic Ocean moments later. I was then a student at Concord High School in New Hampshire, where one of the crew members, Christa McAuliffe, was a teacher. The destruction of the shuttle and the surrounding events consume a much larger fraction of my memory that I could have anticipated, and I was similarly unaware at the degree of emotion I would find wrapped in both the moments following the explosion and the pertinent islands of experience in the months and years thereafter.

    Despite being a sophomore at CHS at the time, if I felt especially tied to the disaster and the drama both attending and preceding it, this was owed less to the whims of geography than to my childhood and adolescent interests. I’d been an astronomy fan since I was about 10, with my interest probably peaking at around age 12 or 13. I was only kid, and maybe the only person, in my circle of acquaintances to whom the sequence of letters O B A F G K M bore meaning. My favorite part of semi-regular trips to the Boston Museum of Science ( were all about the show in the Hayden Planetarium ( that most people slept through while I secretly danced and the did the wave. I still consider Cosmos ( the most incredibly informative and moving program I have ever watched on television (and one of the best books, with certainly the sublimest art of any science publication anywhere); Carl Sagan was my Reggie Jackson, the Voyager I and II missions ( my ongoing World Series. As a sixth-grader I was one of a five or six students in some extracurricular start-up program for astronomy nerds at Broken Ground School, and this led me to my first with a telescope of any consequence – the observatory at St. Paul’s School in Concord. (SPS is a prestigious prep school with an operating budget roughly equal to that of Mississippi; a few years ago, eyebrows were raised when the annual compensation of its rector was listed at close to $600,000, but its grounds were nice to have around when I was young.)

    I had a detailed poster of the vehicle formally known as the Space Transportation System on my bedroom wall that was produced well before the first shuttle was launched or even built (it just kind of “showed up” one day; a theme of my childhood was my parents’ remarkable ability to make perfectly inspiring brain fodder “show up”).

    I owned a Lego version of the prototype. I remember watching footage of the Enterprise (a test-only model) carried across the continental U.S. on the back of a 747, and being perversely excited that the much-smaller Space Shuttle would soon be doing things its formidable but staid Boeing cousin never could. This was at about the time Skylab was returning to Earth in hot bits and pieces and killing cows in Australia; I’d read all about the Apollo missions, which became an addition to human history at the same time I did, and was jazzed for (hu)manned space flight to get rolling again.

    I never had Christa as a teacher. After being selected by NASA for the program in the summer of 1985, she went on a leave of absence to train. I knew her from assemblies, from talk shows, from the indulgent words of my own teachers. There was a yellowed road-race result with her name on it in my bedroom desk drawer: the Concord Five-Miler, sometime in the early 1980s, before I started running myself. I collected such things, which the Internet has rendered both obsolete and more valuable, with the obsessive fervor of anyone struck by honest passion amid the clamor of adolescence. I ran, I loved it. So did others. So did this astronaut-to-be…

    I’ve already painted a picture of what that morning was like at Concord High. By the time the morning of January 28 dawned bright and clear and more than unusually cold in the U.S. Southeast — only now do I recognize how wacky it really is for the temperature to dip below freezing on the Florida coast — the shuttle launch had already been rescheduled twice owing to cold weather. Impatient teens as so many of us were, we’d come to figure we’d be lucky to see the thing go up before our winter break. I remember thinking that if my mother’s Toyota could run in subzero conditions, a multi-gazillion-dollar NASA commodity sure as hell ought to remain viable even if there was a nip in the air.

    That morning, there were reporters from the major networks (at the time, there were only three) seeded throughout the school, interviewing kids and taking stock of what it all meant to the self-identity of a community that only a couple months earlier had seen a quiet, nondescript kid named Louis Cartier shot dead by the police outside the administrative offices after arriving that morning with a shotgun, taking a hostage and apparently vowing to put a load of buckshot in a stereotypical tormentor-bully on the football team. So when the day turned into something between a bad action movie and a Picasso painting, journalism at its hungriest was poised to throw down. And we all watched that night: The mass-televised image of a disbelieving and dejected Carina Dolcino standing at the back of a school cafeteria remained iconic two decades later. The unfailingly chirpy senior-class president had, however unwittingly, adorned herself with balloons and party favors in welcoming the blackest moment in Concord High School history, and in its annual coverage of the disaster, the newsies make sure we never forget it.

    We were quickly dismissed from school — the principal, Charles Foley, did not announce when school would resume; this would be six days later — with all of us carried off by waiting cars and buses within, I would say, 90 minutes of the time what was left of the Challenger began sinking below the surface of the ocean.

    I spent the afternoon as I probably would have given a surprise early furlough: racing my neighborhood buds up and down Mountain Road on skateboards, playing Nerf basketball in someone’s basement. There were no guidelines as to what anyone should think, say or feel, and no one seemed eager to produce any.

    So we just lived; and waited. For the smoke, the skies beyond, and our hearts and minds to clear.

    It would be some time.

  60. John Duncan says

    I was an engineer at Rockwell International. Rockwell was the primary contractor for the Space Shuttle. My group oversaw all the digital systems on board. I was talking to my boss when we both heard people running. Someone stuck his head in the office and said, “It’s gone!” Prior to launch, our stance was not to launch. The main argument was due to the cold temperatures.

    We started to look at what little download data we had. We thought one of the main engines blew. But instead, the data told us that the main engines were commanded to shutdown.

    The days that followed were surreal. I had to tell family and friends that I didn’t know what happened. The main street outside of Rockwell was lined with all the news vans on both sides. I never thought that at 26 that I would be dealing with a national disaster such as this.

  61. Ice Swimmer says

    I must have seen the Shuttle accident on the TV news in the evening. I was a 11-year old kid (a 5th grader) in a town in southern Finland the time and I think I watched the news with my dad, though I’m not sure. I also remember seeing the pictures of the deceased astronauts in the local newspaper the next day.

  62. Rich Woods says

    I was at college but didn’t hear about it until I got home. I remember watching the BBC news with my housemates. The explosion clip was played over and over, so many times that we could no longer bear to watch it and had to switch the televison off.

    We probably went to the pub after that, but I don’t clearly remember.

    When the first shuttle launch took place I was still at school, and one of my mates (who was mad on space) brought in a portable black and white television so we could all watch it in the Sixth Form House. I can’t remember which classes I skived that day, but skive them I did. I have a vague memory of a physics teacher specifically not complaining…

  63. carolw says

    I was a sophomore in high school. I was in band class when one of the tuba players came back from the principal’s office with a look on his face that I’d never seen before and whispered in the band director’s ear. Mr. Smith put down his baton, looked down for a few moments, looked back up at us, and said, “The space shuttle blew up shortly after launch.” There were gasps and sobs. But Mr. Smith went on with rehearsal, as horrible as it sounded, with most of the band trying to play through tears. There was no TV in the band hall, so it wasn’t until after that class period that we saw the indelible image of the breakup of the shuttle. Some of our teachers had the sense to just turn the TV off and not let it sear into our brains any more than it already had. They understood. They were our age when Kent State happened, Viet Nam, and the Whitman shootings.

  64. FiveString says

    I was also in grad school, but being in Hawaii (astronomy at UH) it happened around 6:40am local time. I woke up to go to work and heard the news. Having lived through all of the successes of the Apollo mission and (being a bit too young to remember the Apollo 1 disaster) what I recall most clearly was disbelief that anything so terrible could have really happened. A rude awakening in more ways than one.

  65. nahuati says

    I’ve especially enjoyed reading the responses on this thread. There sure is an interesting group of commenters here.

    My memories of the Challenger explosion are vague. I only remember that I was at home that day watching CNN which was continuously showing the liftoff.

  66. amandajane5 says

    I was in elementary school, I was home sick that day, so I was watching The Price Is Right with my mom when it was interrupted to show footage of the Challenger exploding.

  67. thebookofdave says

    I rushed through the daily inspections at the George AFB jet engine test site, excited at the opportunity to finally catch a live broadcast of a shuttle launch, and walked into the office breakroom just in time to see Challenger’s disintegration on a crappy little 12″ screen. I never noticed my coworkers file in behind me. We stood and stared in stunned silence for what seemed like an age (probably only a minute).