Where Were You?:
My sense is that most people over a certain age remember where they were when they learned of the Challenger space shuttle disaster, 20 years ago today. I was in Mr. Tappan's eighth ninth grade science class. Where were you?
MikeC&F (mail):
I was in second or third grade. At my grade school, I was close enough to home that I often went home for lunch. So I was at home watching Headline News when I learned of the disaster.
1.28.2006 5:47pm
I was in kindergarten watching television. I was sitting on the floor, looking up. After the challenger blew up, the teacher, a female, whose name I've long forgotten, quickly turned off the TV. I don't think she explained to us what happened. Although I saw the explosion, I didn't realize what happened until later.
1.28.2006 5:48pm
Hattio (mail):
On the bus on the way too school. Living in AK, the take-off was live on morning news. Lots of students watched it (we didn't have a tv) and of course talked about it when they got on the bus.

But on the general issue, I would think that more people would remember where they were when Reagan was shot? Am I way off base?
1.28.2006 5:50pm
rholtmeyer (mail):
I was in second grade. It seems that every teacher in the nation wanted to watch Christine McAuliffe go into space. Our class was going to watch, but the networks didn't carry the live feed, they only a taped feed after the accident. We didn't know about the accident until we were home watching the news. I don't remember how many times they repeated the fireball. I'll never forget those moments.
1.28.2006 5:52pm
nyejm (mail) (www):
I was sitting on my parents' living room floor. I couldn't figure out why the kept showing the same short video clip over, and over, and over. But then, I wasn't quite four years old.
1.28.2006 5:53pm
My memory is exactly like Bobbie's, but I think I was in the 2nd grade at the time. I'm from New Hampshire, and seeing as Christa MacAuliffe was from the state, it was kind of a big deal, and nearly every class in the school was watching it.

Incidentally, her husband is a federal district court judge in New Hampshire, if I'm not mistaken.
1.28.2006 5:54pm
Matt Barr (mail) (www):
Considering how many people were in school, I must have had a snow day. In Buffalo? No way! I was probably in 8th or 9th grade and I was shovelling the porch when my mom came out to tell me the space shuttle had exploded in space, which it hadn't, but that's neither here nor there.
1.28.2006 6:00pm
Michaelg (mail):
Working in a supermarket. Another employee, an idiot woman, said with a kind of sour pleasure, "They're all dead." I hate that my memory of hearing the news always includes her stupid face.
1.28.2006 6:03pm
Ted Frank (www):
I had just arrived in Mrs. Vasterling's eleventh-grade English class when students behind me arrived breathless with the news that the shuttle had exploded; some classes the previous period, but not mine, watched the event live. Because our school didn't have enough classrooms, the literature classes were held in rented church rooms three blocks away on Carrollton Avenue. We contemplated how unthinkable and remarkable this all was, and then wondered when the first tasteless jokes would emerge, to which someone suggested "How many space shuttle astronauts does it take to change a light bulb?" to which he had no proposed answer.
1.28.2006 6:07pm
Bob Bell (mail):
I was at Giebelstadt Army Airfield (near Wuerzburg, Germany), where I was commanding the 92d Chemical Company. Someone came in and announced the news, and I went running across the street to an aviation unit that had a TV (tuned to Armed Forces Network) in the Orderly Room. Saw the replays. I didn't get to see the full Reagan speech, just excerpts on the news.
1.28.2006 6:11pm
Seamus (mail):
In between classes at law school. I still remember the name of the guy who told me the news.

And, oh yes, it took about 24 hours before I heard the first tasteless joke.
1.28.2006 6:12pm
Average Joe (mail):
Wow, I guess I am the oldest person to post here so far! I was in graduate school and had walked into a fairly large central room in the Theoretical Chemistry complex when I heard some people saying that the Space Shuttle had blown up. At first I did not believe it, as it sounded sensational, it seemed too horrible to be true, and I really wanted it to not be true. I remember that my collegues and I were in shock the remainder of that afternoon.
1.28.2006 6:12pm
I was at home during the break between terms my freshman year at MIT. I was still all PO'd by the Patriots getting croaked by the Bears two days earlier. I woke up late and happened to remember "oh yeah -- there's a shuttle launch today" and turned on the TV. Commentators weren't saying anything and the camera was just panning up the complete smoke trail starting at the launchpad. I figured "oh, the shuttle is out of range of the chase planes and they're just filling time until they hear orbit is set". And then the pan reached the "puff" and the two smoke trails coming out of it and at that point I knew that something Real Bad(tm) had happened.
1.28.2006 6:21pm
I was in my high school auditorium in New York City, between classes. I probably gave some sort of derisive snort when I heard the news; though I don't think I made a tasteless joke about it. I probably said something to the effect that at least seven people had probably been killed in New York during the past week and why aren't we mourning them, too? (I still believe that.)

Our emotional reactions to the deaths of strangers can be arbitrary and weird. The shuttle astronauts were strangers to me, no more and no less worthy of emotional investment than anyone else whose name showed up in the obits column.
1.28.2006 6:25pm
John Armstrong (mail):
I was being hustled out of the area between the first grade classrooms where all the first graders had been gathered to watch the event, one of the few pressing unsettling questions rather than just taking the whole event as an excuse to get out of reading class for the day.
1.28.2006 6:26pm
I was only four at the time. I don't remember what I was doing when I first heard about it, but I do remember that shortly thereafter my parents let me decorate a cake. I dumped a pile of red sprinkles on top and called it a tribute to the victims of the Challenger explosion.
1.28.2006 6:29pm
AppSocREs (mail):
I was doing a stint as a programmer/software engineer in a portfolio management company. I remember the women one cubicle over were listening to the launch (or maybe watching it on a portable tv). Their obvious dismay caught my attention and I found out what happened when I went went over to investigate. Four other things have had a similar impact:
(1) The Kennedy assassination: I was in a last period German language lab in high school when our teacher announced the President had been shot. We did not learn until hours later that he had died. (2) Lyndon Johnson's announcement that he would not run for re-election. I was watching television with friends at Brandeis University. You could literally hear screams of elation all over campus. I can still remember my disgust at the pygmy children of the elite rejoicing in the downfall of this tragic giant. I spent two hours walking off my anger. It was the beginning of my switch from left-Democrat to conservative Republican. The next year I voted for Ricchard Nixon. (3) The actual touchdown on the moon in 1969 (not the walk). Friends and I had been running errands and listening on the radio. We got home just in time to hear the landing on television. (4) 9/11 of course. I was recovering from pnuemonia and woke up alone at home around 9:00 or 10:00 to hear radio reports that plane appeared to have crashed into the WTC. I immediately called a friend who told me he'd heard reports of a second plane hitting the second tower.

I expect that other people may have been more strongly impacted by other events, e.g., the asssasinations of MLK or RFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, etc., etc. It might be worth doing a separate thread to see what events have seared themselves into the memories pof people this way. I'd love to be able to do an analysis of false memories about these events by cross-referencing the stories of people who experienced them together.
1.28.2006 6:32pm
I guess I may be the only one so far to have seen it directly, albeit 100+ miles away. I was outside picking up environmental water samples. I recall that it was bitterly cold for Florida, so cold that we had problems with the sample freezing in beakers as we collected them.

I knew the launch time and was watching the sky since we can generally see the KSC launches even tho we are more than a 100 miles north.

When the launch occured I knew right away that there was some problem since it looked like none other that I had seen. I had traveled down to Cocoa Beach to watch several and had seen quite a few from the distance.

A call back to the workbase soon confirmed what occured. I can still see, in my mind's eye, the forked contrails that we saw that morning.
1.28.2006 6:33pm
Ian Argent (mail):
I must have been home sick or something - because I heard it on the radio at home (I was in grade school at the time).

One of two incidents that I remember quite vividly - the other one (of course) being 9/11. Now the thing that I remember most vividly from *that* day isn't when I first heard that an aircraft had impacted one of the towers; I figured it was a general aviation craft and had doneminimal damage... (I was at work and didn't have access to a TV at the time - and the radio stations we were listening to were still trying ot sort themselves out). But I very much remember where I was when I heard that the Pentagon had been struck - my mother worked at the pentagon at the time! (She was almost diametrically opposite of the impact point, in a basement; until she got to the marshalling areas, she thought a transformer had exploded)

I don't remember exactly where I was when I heard about Columbia - but I do remember the blog I read it on (Instapundit, unsuprisingly). From that I can deduce where I was at the time - but I don't directly remember it.

Oh, yeah, and I remember where I was when I heard that Spaceship One landed successfully - I was in my car listening to the radio; on the way home from an interview.
1.28.2006 6:50pm
Fishbane (mail):
Sixth grade, watching it unfold at home because I had chickenpox.
1.28.2006 6:54pm
Tom Anger (mail) (www):
As I entered the local barber shop to keep my haircut appointment, I was greeted by the news, blasting from a TV set.
1.28.2006 7:06pm
DRJ (mail):
I was at work, getting ready to go to Court for a hearing.

I was about the age of many of the commenters here when President Kennedy was assasinated, and my memories of that event and where I was when it happened are even more vivid.
1.28.2006 7:10pm
kristine (mail) (www):
I was in third grade. The lower grades weren't watching the launch, but my brother, in sixth grade, was. The principal made an announcement shortly after the explosion, and, since it was a Catholic school, we said a prayer as a school.

I heard about the Oklahoma City bombing in the same way, my senior year of high school. We said a prayer as a school then, too.
1.28.2006 7:19pm
Porkchop (mail):
I was a fifth-year associate at a DC law firm. We watched the replay in a partner's office television. I was 34 at the time, so I guess I may be the oldest responder so far.
1.28.2006 7:33pm
I was at home with my mother and younger brother, getting ready to go to kindergarten later in the afternoon. I remember seeing the explosion on TV in the living room and going to get my mother (who was making the beds) to ask what had happened.
1.28.2006 7:33pm
Thomas Roland (mail):
I was driving to my step-kids' middle-school to pick them up. At 69, I probably just beat out Porkchop.
1.28.2006 8:21pm
Thomas Roland (mail):
Not probably--I did!
1.28.2006 8:22pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
While driving to work eastbound on Interstate 580 in California past Castro Valley, I heard the news on my car (1982 Honda Accord LX) radio. Shortly before I had been telling people that I didn't like the shuttle program because the government was treating it like a bus instead of the dangerous test aircraft it really is. We expect test pilots live with that kind of risk, but civilians are a different story.
1.28.2006 8:22pm
Thomas Roland (mail):
BTW, I learned of the Kennedy assassination as I was teaching a high school algebra class--and I immediately predicted that our next (elected) president would be-----Richard Nixon!!
1.28.2006 8:24pm
Thomas Roland (mail):
nyejm---I was sitting on my parents' living room floor. I couldn't figure out why the kept showing the same short video clip over, and over, and over. But then, I wasn't quite four years old.

Well, now that you're twenty-four, you get to watch the same short video played over and over and over again for 48 hours straight of an airplane sitting on the tarmac after it has made a quite uneventful "emergency" landing and all the passengers have disembarked and been dozing in the airport for many, many hours. It's called "breaking news" for days. Go figure.
1.28.2006 8:30pm
Jeff Cooper (mail) (www):
I was in my college dorm room, with my 12" black-and-white television on. It was a devastating morning.
1.28.2006 8:59pm
Gary and the Samoyeds (mail) (www):
I was at work. The office joker (who listened to the radio at his desk) said "The shuttle just exploded on lift-off." We all smirked at him "yeah, right!" and made some tasteless jokes. It took him nearly 2 minutes to convince us to come listen to the radio. I can remember being sick and depressed the rest of the day. I just didn't care about anything.
1.28.2006 9:09pm
I was home sick (I was also in eighth grade) and thought it would be fun to watch a launch.

What I remember was CNN not saying much for a LONG time, as the debris fell. I could see a wing going end-over-end, white, then black, then white, before hitting the ocean. A parachute gave false hope; I was enough of a space geek to know that there was no escape system, but the solid booster's nose-cone on a parachute still jolted me.
1.28.2006 9:10pm
magoo (mail):
I was a young associate in a DC firm....everyone was deeply shaken as the news spread....everyone, regardless of party, thought Reagan's talk later that day (written by Noonan) was Reagan at his finest.
1.28.2006 9:30pm
I was in preschool at the time, and I don't remember hearing about it at all. I only learned about it years later.

This is probably because I was in Brazil.
1.28.2006 9:53pm
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
I was in the New York Port Authority bus terminal, on my way back to NJ after attending a tax seminar in the City. The headlines on the evening papers said it all.
1.28.2006 9:58pm
smc78 (mail):
I was in Ms. Morrisey's second grade math class. We were upset becuase she wouldn't let us watch the broadcast on TV. My homeroom teacher, Ms. Reinhardt was letting her class watch in the room next door. She came over to our room and told Ms. Morrisey what had happened who then told us.
1.28.2006 10:05pm
Wolfblade (mail):
I wasn't even born yet; I must be the youngest person here...
1.28.2006 10:18pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
I was a 3rd year medical student trying to a blood sample from an uncooperative pediatric patient when I glanced up at the room TV and saw what I thought was a mushroom cloud, as it was still during the cold war, at first I thought there had been some kind of nuclear detonation. Even though I was a space nut, I hadn't known that a shuttle launch was scheduled for that day.
1.28.2006 10:23pm
I was in 2nd grade in Florida. I sat in the back of the class and could see the plumes of smoke out the window. Like the other poster from Florida, I was 100+ miles away, but we could still see the shuttles and frequently watched them from the school yard.
1.28.2006 10:29pm
Henry Schaffer (mail):
As DRJ does, I vividly remember where I was and my actions on hearing of the JFK assassination. I can't place such recent events as the Challenger disaster so accurately. I suspect this tells us something about memory formation.
1.28.2006 10:35pm
Laura Heymann (mail):
Watching from the viewing stands in Florida. I was one of two high-school juniors from my high school in New Hampshire sent to see the launch. From our vantage point -- with no television screens to provide a telescopic view -- those in my immediate vicinity had no idea that anything had gone wrong until we heard, "Obviously a major malfunction . . ." over the public address system. (The curls of smoke you saw on television appeared to us like they might be the boosters separating from the orbiter.) We only knew for sure when we heard " . . . the vehicle has exploded."
1.28.2006 10:51pm
XWL (www):
Junior year High School, 2nd period Chemistry final.

Needless to say the event cast a pall on the rest of the day, though by 4th period already heard the tasteless 'why did they have pepsi on board?' joke (and from the class president no less).

As I look back on the tragedy that's what sticks with me most, the spontaneous generation of a bad joke in high schools, colleges and offices across the nation. (before the internet would spread these things far more effeciently)

Strange what becomes memorable.
1.28.2006 11:06pm
I was working at the OC Register. Got called into work from a sound sleep. Pictures came across the wire - this was before the digital age. The color came over as three black and white paper copies. The resulting image from the paper copies was not pretty - white smoke against a black sky. It was all over CNN - perhaps there first big story. Editor of the paper called and asked why it was a blue sky on CNN but the photo had a dark sky. He asked if I could make it look like the CNN image, which was the true image. Spent several hours with film negatives, and opaque brush, and a darkroom, but I made a close match.
Every other paper in the country, except for the local paper that had the original, ran the dark, almost black sky. We were accused of manipulating the picture on our computers - which we had just purchased but had not yet used. Caused quite an uproar in the newspaper business at the time. But were eventually cleared thanks to the editor of the paper, and the design editor. No names, to protect the innocent, but you know who you are, should you ever read this.
Look for the story at SND, Poytner, E&P, somewhere in there archives....
1.28.2006 11:30pm
Eric Muller (www):
Wait. Why did they have Pepsi on board?
1.28.2006 11:38pm
countertop (mail):
I was in 8th grade and representing my school in a young leaders workshop at the Oak Knoll School in Summit, NJ, working on solutions to the perceived trash problem facing New Jersey when a teacher interrupted our presentations to make an important announcement to us.

For my generation at least, it certainly seems to be the monumental event that tied us. I remember the lingering effects of Watergate and was very aware of the Iran Hostage situation, but was just too young to fully grasp their impact. Challenger, to me, seemed to shock America and bring the nation together in a way that I didn't see again until 9/11
1.28.2006 11:43pm
Jared K.:
Eric Muller:

I'm not old enough to have heard the jokes either, so I had to do some googling, but I tracked down this reference about what the joke actually was.
1.29.2006 1:04am
Matt22191 (mail):
I was between classes in my freshman year of high school, and overheard some other students talking about it. They had just come from Mr. Weaver's class, where they had been watching the launch. Mr. Weaver was one of the freshman science teachers, and had survived several cuts as a candidate for the spot Christa McAuliffe eventually took; I believe he was in the top one hundred. He was terribly upset.

Honestly, though, I wasn't all that affected by the news. I remember being shocked, but the shock came from realizing that of course it was still incredibly dangerous to send people into space. Launches had become so routine that I, at least, had lost sight of that fact. I also remember thinking that it was actually rather amazing that something like that hadn't happened sooner. Finally, I recall thinking that Mr. Weaver was very fortunate after all, and that some of my classmates' emotional reactions were a little over the top.
1.29.2006 1:06am
Sarah Brabazon-Biggar (mail):
Let's see... twenty years ago I was four. I was sitting on the floor playing. My mom was watching TV, and suddenly she started crying. She tried to explain it to me, but I don't think I understood much. Still, I've always remembered that day.
1.29.2006 1:26am
I was in 10th grade, in drama class. Our drama teacher, Mr. Frey, had applied to be in the Christa McAuliffe position and made it through a few levels of the process, so he sponsored the watch-it-on-TV effort. He staggered around for the rest of the day thinking, "If I'd been better, that's where I'd be."
1.29.2006 1:57am
Unemployed Lawyer:
Fourth grade in Louisiana. I remember watching it, with the big story being the teacher on board. Just like our teacher. And then it was all over. I remember our teacher tried to talk to us about it for a while, and I remember knowing that it was sad and serious and shocking. And I also remember loving recess that day, because it was a chance to get away from all of that adult seriousness that just happened.
1.29.2006 2:00am
Paolo Sepi (mail) (www):
I was in my first year of medical school. First class of the day, physiology, when another student came in and said "the Challenger just exploded". What I remember more than anything was initial disbelief; I was sure he was joking. Finally it sunk in. I remember wondering why these seven deaths meant so much, and concluding that they were trying to do something, but did not expect to die.

Likewise I remember Nixon resigning (taking a Berlitz language class, and getting a break because one of the teachers "wanted to watch the president cry".)

And of course 9/11/01, driving to work, hearing that an airplane crashed into the WTC. I had been on the top of the WTC, watching the small private planes flying down the Hudson below my level, and thought that one of them must have hit the building. When I heard a second plane had hit, I immediately though "terrorism".

I don't remember where I was when Reagan was shot, although I was a freshman in college.
1.29.2006 2:41am
KMAJ (mail):
I was in the newsroom of the television station I worked for watching the launch. We went into scramble mode pretty quickly, locating experts, looking for local angles for coverage, putting together a tribute, getting responses from local and state VIPs and man on the street reactions.
1.29.2006 4:46am
George Gregg (mail):
I was in my freshman year at Notre Dame. I'd just come back from Professor Emil T. Hoffman's General Chamistry lecture to find my dorm roommates in Flanner Tower huddled around our tv, watching the replays of the explosion...
1.29.2006 10:28am
George Gregg (mail):
And yes, we spelled it "Chamistry" back then...
1.29.2006 10:29am
roy in calif (mail):
I heard it on the car radio about 15 min after it occurred as I was on the freeway to pick up my son from kindergarden. He had wanted to be an astronaunt at the time.

I was a Junior in high school when my German language teacher walked into the begining of class and announced that JFK had been shot and killed.

I was at sea (off the coast of 'Nam) when the announcement of the "Eagle has landed" was made over the ship's loudspeaker system. We'd been out of touch with "The World" too much for it to have made much of an impression on most of us (it was six months before I saw the TV pictures).
1.29.2006 11:14am
Guest2 (mail):
I was 26 and working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the time (long before law school). I was in the Museum's mail room for some reason, and my boss, an excitable woman at the best of times, came running in screaming, "THE SHUTTLE'S EXPLODED!!"

BTW -- George Gregg, GREAT way to handle a typo.
1.29.2006 12:06pm
Ross Levatter (mail):
The tasteless joke wasn't "How many shuttle astronauts does it take to screw in a light bulb?". It was "How many shuttle astronauts does it take to get an "O" ring replaced?" Answer: 7.
1.29.2006 12:16pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
I was in a cubicle, near the end of my first professional job, programming for Trident II navigation for Sperry, the same Lake Success building where the UN first met. An older engineer had a radio (or portable TV, or a call from his wife?) and he told us.

I think I was more aware of that launch than average, due to the teacher-in-space issue. (Just as with Columbia, the Jews-in-space hook made it more interesting.)

I was in a stroller when JFK was shot; I was watching TV at a neighbor's when MLK was shot and she told me to run home (down the hall in our building) and tell my parents. I remember hearing the Apollo 1 report, driving with my father on the Belt Parkway or Van Wyck Expwy. Saw the Moon Walk and the Mets winning the World Series on our black&white TV.

I remember when Reagan was shot because I bought a waterbed from another undergraduate that day and was putting it together when the radio announced it.

And when 9/11 happened I had just dropped my oldest off at first grade, and had the two younger kids with my wife at a playground on the beautiful fall morning. I got the news on my cell phone, and the plane-into-Empire-State-Building being a bit of family lore I went to the car to hear the 9am headlines. They were interviewing some guy who'd seen a DC-3 come down Fifth Avenue, my wife was in a convenience store, when the second plane hit, and I knew and said right away "This is something bad."
1.29.2006 1:48pm
Guest2 (mail):
David C. -- In what way was the plane-into-Empire-State-Building a bit of family lore? Was your family connected in some way?
1.29.2006 2:35pm
Ira B. Matetsky (mail):
I was in my second year of law school, and working as a law intern for the New York City Civil Service Commission, whose jurisdiction included appellate review of decisions by the Personnel Department that a job applicant was not eligible to take a civil service exam because he/she didn't meet the educational or experience requirements. We were holding a review hearing on someone's application, and the city's lawyer (who was always fairly strident) made an odd and tasteless comment in his opening statement along the lines of "When unqualified people are hired for jobs, terrible consequences can happen, such as space shuttles exploding." Whereupon the Chairperson responded "what the hell are you talking about?" and the lawyer told us the news, which he had heard on his way over to the hearing, and the rest of us hadn't yet heard.
1.29.2006 3:13pm
cbi (mail):
I was watching the afternoon broadcast of the Today Show on AFN. Jane Pauly was interviewing Pat Benatar and I was annoyed that they cut over to show the launch. Jan 28th is also my sister's was a very quiet dinner.
1.29.2006 3:36pm
Hovsep Joseph (mail) (www):
Fourth grade in upstate New York. Teacher who had applied for the opportunity to go on the mission came into the room crying in a way that none of us at the time could really understand.
1.29.2006 4:02pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Guest2 asks about my connection with Plane-into-Empire-State-Building

Before my generation, but I think Friend-of-a-friend-of-my-mother was working in the building at the time. I should probably have said that it was a story that I'd heard enough times in my childhood that it immediately came to mind. I'll ask my parents (both still living) what exactly was our connection to that event.

Is that story well known outside of NYers whose families were in NY during WWII?
1.29.2006 4:21pm
Guest2 (mail):
Thnks for the reply re: plane hitting Empire State Bldg. I grew in central New Jersey and knew the story well. It was the first thing that popped into my mind when (on 9/11) I heard a secretary sitting just outside my office say that a plane had hit the WTC. I figured it was the same kind of accident and just kept on working (I was an associate at the time!).
1.29.2006 5:14pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
I was a junior in college, and was in an undergraduate law class when the shuttle exploded. I found out what had happened after my next class when I checked my email and saw a posting on a campus BBS. The author was an occasional prankster so I was skeptical, but another message from another classmate confirmed that the shuttle really had blown up. I then ran to my dorm and spent the rest of the afternoon watching the news on a big TV in the lounge with about 25 or 30 other students.

I had actually overheard two people in the hallway talking in hushed tones about an explosion while I sat waiting for the latter class to begin, but I didn't hear them say what had exploded and only made the connection later.
1.29.2006 5:26pm
tdr (mail) (www):
I was in bed in Pacific Beach in San Diego. I woke up, turned on the TV, and saw the news.
1.30.2006 1:31am
Frank J. (mail) (www):
I was six when it happened, and I don't have any recollection of it until there was an episode of Punky Brewster about it.

I guess we didn't watch the launch in the classroom.
1.30.2006 6:34am
Willie (mail):
I was in a meeting at a conference room on the 3rd floor at Koch Industries' headquarters in Wichita. We'd just started, the door opened and Cy Nobles stuck his head in the door and said, "turn on your TV the Challenger just went down."
1.30.2006 8:13am
Rebecca Oris Davidson (mail) (www):
I have a much clearer memory of the Punky Brewster episode mentioned by Frank J. than I do of the event itself. I was in first grade in Miss Rowan's class. We were all excited about the launch, and like every other classroom in America, it had been all-astronomy-all-the-time for a while. The odd thing is I remember Miss Rowan telling us to be sure to watch the launch on the news that evening, and watching horrified at home. That of course can't be right, since the launch was in the morning, and I can't imagine us not having watched it in class, nor having found out about it at some point during the day.
1.30.2006 8:56am
Henry Woodbury (mail):
I was working in the sculpture studio at art school. I heard the news on the radio. I walked back back to my apartment and turned on the TV.
1.30.2006 9:56am
Aeon J. Skoble (mail):
Senior year of college, watched on my little b/w dorm room TV on a broadcast network, probably ABC. I remember walking across campus later with a classmate who said something to the effect that they'd now have difficulty staffing future space missions, to which I replied "Are you kidding? I'd go tomorrow if they asked me." Haven't been asked yet, but the offer still stands.
1.30.2006 10:47am
Yellowbird (www):
I was in the recording control booth of the rehearsal room of the Air force Band of the West at Lackland AFB, listening to some takes from a jazz band session we had recorded a few months earlier. One of our other trombonists came in with the news, and we gathered around the day room television and watched the repeated footage. Two days later we were on a bus to Houston to play at President Regan's memorial for the astronauts. We had spent the day after the explosion digging through the music library and rehearsing a wide selection of suitably somber music, but in the end, we only played a few hymns from the Armed Services Hymnal.
1.30.2006 10:57am
Chris Farris (mail) (www):
I was in sixth grade and it was a typical Long Island Snow Day: school was cancelled and it was nice and sunny. I rode by bike down to the local hobby shop where I heard it announced on the radio.
1.30.2006 11:00am
john w. (mail):
Minor Quibble: You probably should have said: "Most people within a certain age bracket..." I was born in 1945. I vividly remember the Kennedy assassination, the sinking of the Andrea Doria, and (surprisingly) the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. My older sister remembers exactly what she was doing when she heard about Pearl Harbor, but neither one of us has any specific personal recollections about what we were doing at the time of the Challenger crash. My mother (born in 1906) remembers what she was doing when she heard about the Lusitania, but I'm sure she doesn't remember anything about Challenger.
1.30.2006 11:30am
Neal Lang (mail):
I was at work in Deerfield Beach, FL (about 140 South of the Cape). From our office windows we could see the "contrails" of the Shuttle before and after the explosion.
1.30.2006 12:18pm
Mark Hagerman (mail):
I was in a employer-sponsored class. There wasn't a lot of comment from people; I think we all needed time to think about it.

By the way, does anyone remember a song in memory of Challenger called (I think) "Dare to Dream"?
1.30.2006 1:12pm
Houston Lawyer:
I was at work as a first year lawyer and a word processor came and told me the news.

2006 will be the 25th anniversary of:

The attempted assassination of President Reagan;
The attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II;
The imposition of martial law in Poland; and
The assassination of Anwar Sadat.

You quickly recognize the stunned silence of important news on a crowd of college students in front of a tv.
1.30.2006 1:29pm
jimsjournal (www):
I find it hard to believe it was that long ago... Twenty years... I was a systems analyst for a university and had gone down to the gym to get in a lunchtime workout when someone came from an office and said that the Challenger had exploded shortly after launch. I was shocked and dismayed and deeply saddened..
1.30.2006 1:48pm
TDPerkins (mail):
Home sick from school. Unlike a lot of people who "remember" watching it blow up but really remember a replay, I watched the damn thing happen live.

It still pisses me off to think about it, or if I'm surprised by the image of the explosion.

I still can't believe someone didn't do jail time over it, I think the misjudgements were that negligently severe.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
1.30.2006 3:25pm
My memory could be faulty but I don't think I knew until I got home from school at 3pm and my sister was watching it on TV. I was in 10th grade, so I doubt the teachers withheld the information to protect our sensitive natures. They must not have known either. I went to a rural high school -- not a whole lot of radios or TVs in the building. Certainly a contrast to the news environment we live in now.

It had crossed my mind, and I may have even voiced it, that with all of the pressure to launch the shuttle something may go wrong. So when my sister asked "Guess what happened?" I responded "The space shuttle exploded." At least that's my hazy memory; I was at least not surprised. Saddened, but not surprised.
1.30.2006 3:45pm
In the NRC Resident Inspector's office at the (late)Shoreham Nuclear Power Station.
1.30.2006 4:46pm
woobie468 (mail):
I was home sick from school -- in the fifth grade. I used to try and stay home sick to watch the space shuttle take off. I remember being down stairs in the family room watching the coverage when the launch began. After a short time, I could tell that something was wrong but I didn't know what -- the announcers weren't really giving a lot of insight. So I ran upstairs to see my mom in the kitchen. She was at the sink. I told her I thought something was wrong with the space shuttle -- and after a short time we learned what had happened. Honestly, I didn't believe it -- I believed they had survived and it took me some time to understand that survival wasn't possible.

In the spring of my 7th grade year, I went to Space Camp in Huntville, AL. I remember the feelings down there were still very raw and sensitive -- a great deal of sadness and still a great deal of trying to understand what had happened.

Knowing a teacher was on the shuttle made that launch special to me -- made me feel connected to the launch in a way I hadn't felt in the past. Unfortunatly, the launch was tragic and a tremendous life lesson in disappointment for me at the time.

I'm glad we still talk about it -- for people my age (approx. 30) it was an event we'll always remember through the eyes of a child. The fear, disappointment, and confusion were overwhelming. Looking back, I wonder if NASA didn't become too conservative in the wake of the Challenger disaster -- or maybe it is the public in general that expects exploration without tradedy? It's time was ask those questions -- my generation is ready.
1.30.2006 4:48pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
I was 5, since I was in California school hadn't started yet when the networks started playing the tapes, so I saw the repeats but not the live broadcast (if I'm not mistaken, I was probably still asleep at that point, and anyway we didn't have CNN.)

I'm not sure why I was watching the news instead of Babar or whatever other cartoon was on at the moment; I was the typical kid-fan of space ("that would be so much fun! you would float around all day long, even during dinner!") and might have channel flipped past the report, on my way somewhere else, and then gone back when I realized it was about space and not politics or local crime or something. I don't think I really understood anything except that the grown-ups were sad. If anyone actually explained it to me, it was probably my older stepbrother, who was a huge space nut the way I was a dinosaur freak.

I remember more clearly the anniversary broadcasts, though, which always upset me, especially when they played the video of the breakup. I don't like watching video of the planes crashing into the WTC, either.
1.30.2006 11:18pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
I was driving in my Toyota Tercel, thinking that if Toyota had built the shuttle, it wouldn't have happened. At that very moment, the car died for the only time in the eight years I owned it. The igniter was bad, a very common problem they fixed for free that was subject of a recall. But the exact timing must have been some sort of divine rebuke.
1.31.2006 10:14am
Steve Rosenbach (www):
I was a mechanical engineer for Baltimore Gas &Electric Company's Nuclear Division, visiting their Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant that day. I was sitting in someone's cubicle, discussing some technical matter, when one of our collegues stuck his head over the cubicle wall and said, in a fairly casual tone, "Did you hear the news?" When we indicated that we hadn't he said, "the shuttle just exploded."

It was my birthday, and I had anticipated going home later to a special dinner. Now all that normalcy didn't seem to matter. I had grown up totally absorbed by the Mecrury Program, then Gemini and Apollo. Astronauts were my heroes, even at age 36.

My next thought was, oh no, the Teacher!

And then my next thought was, oh no! Dr. Resnick! As a Jew I was very proud of her as the first Jew in space, and now she was dead.

And I couldn't help but suddenly remembering the day before my birthday 19 years earlier - January 27, 1967, when we heard the news that the Apollo 1 astronauts had died on the launch pad during a test.
1.31.2006 10:49am
Homer J Rob (mail):

I was in sixth grade and it was a typical Long Island Snow Day: school was cancelled and it was nice and sunny.

Thanks, Chris Farris! I too grew up on LI, and was home from high school that day, and thought it must have been a snow day, but it's nice to get confirmation. I was home, watching TV - Roy Firestone's interview show on ESPN, when my Mom, who was downstairs watching some other show, yelled upstairs "oh my god the space shuttle blew up." I still don't know whether ESPN ever broke into programming to inform the viewers or not.
One of my strongest recollections was of that night, watching the CBS news, and listening to Dan Rather discuss his little model space shuttle and point to different parts of it, explaining in his "talking to 4 year olds" voice what the different parts were. I don't know why it made me so angry, it just seemed so patronizing.
1.31.2006 8:01pm