On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing the seven crew members on board.


Space.com. Challenger

Wikipedia. Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

In those days, we followed every shuttle mission. I was at Longs Peak Junior High in Longmont, Colorado, and we’d just started orchestra. A few of the brass players walked in late, and when the sub asked them where they’d been they said “Watching the space shuttle blow up!” The sub told them to sit down and get ready, while the rest of us looked at each other in confusion.

At the beginning of my next class, the teacher told us what had happened and wheeled in a television on a cart so we could watch the news coverage ourselves. This was the mission with Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who was supposed to be the first civilian in space. Several of my own teachers had applied for the program.

For days after the tragedy, I waited to hear that maybe…possibly… some of the crew had evacuated and found parachutes or some other miracle to save them. Of course, that wasn’t true. Still, I hoped. In vain.

This was one of the first major events in my lifetime. I was horrified. I was already a space geek back then, and I wanted to go. Even after the tragedy sunk in, I still wanted to go. Today, at age 47, I still want to go.

Thirty-two years ago today. Ad astra per aspera.


What memories do you have of this event? How did you and the people in your life feel about it?


5 thoughts on “Space Shuttle Challenger

  1. I got the news in Geometry class. Like you, I remember shock at the tragedy. I was too young to remember the early tragedies in our space program, so this was the first time it was really brought home to me that space travel was dangerous.

    I suppose my clearest memory though was seeing people in t-shirts that read “I volunteer for the next shuttle mission.” Given the talk among politicians of scrapping the shuttle program, it was reassuring to see other people’s passion for space on display.


  2. Because of an ice storm, I was at home waiting for a tree service to arrive. I had CNN on and saw it in real time.

    I was stunned. The space program had gone since Apollo 1 without a major catastrophe (Apollo 13 being a close call.) We’d forgotten that it really is “rocket science” and that there were risks. Even the name STS (Space Transportation System) was intended to make space travel “normal”.

    At work the next day all we could do is speculate on causes. Remember, that was pre-Internet. We only had what was in the paper and on the news.


  3. The Challenger exploded on my brothers’ fourth birthday. I was six years old.
    I’m certain we watched the launch (and disaster) on TV at school; certainly it was on the news for days; but the part of that event that is the most memorable for me was seeing the flags at half-mast for the first time in my life. I noticed them as the bus was pulling up to school the next day and asked an older kid why the flag wasn’t all the way up.
    “Because of Challenger.”
    That’s when it hit me that this had been a major catastrophe. Something that affected every person in America. I was too young to understand everything that was happening, but the unity of national mourning was something that really stuck with me.


  4. I had just walked out of class when a girl I knew came up to me and said the space shuttle had just “blown up.” I was 15 years old and can remember thinking she was joking. I thought there was not was, America was invincible and infallible. I was so steeped in 80’s cold war propaganda such were my thoughts. Shortly, I heard other people whispering about the explosion and that the head physics teacher, who had an entire wall in his class covered with a massive picture of the space shuttle, was in tears. Class went on as normal but I think I left early and went home to watch the news. I was probably grounded from TV (I spent more time ditching and in trouble at that age than I did doing anything else) but I did not let that stop me. I sat stunned watched the events unfold and wondering what this meant for our nation and the space program. it was the first time I saw a chink in the invincible armor of America.


  5. Challenger STS-51L
    At the time, I was a stay at home mom of a then 3 year old daughter. I turned on the TV to watch the news, and they were showing the launch of Challenger because of Christa McAuliffe. I remember hearing the countdown and Challenger’s launch into a clear, blue Florida sky. Then came that fateful call “Challenger, go at throttle up”. I had the feeling of being punched in the gut and my little daughter giggled…she didn’t understand. Those were the days before the internet, so anything I learned about it was from things that were released to the media. It wasn’t until later that I really understood everything that went wrong that day. Its another one that stays in my memory, as crystal clear now as the morning I saw it happen live.


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