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where were you?

Juan reminded me that today is the anniversary of the Space Shuttle disaster. Like he said, it's one of those "where were you?" moments.

Seventeen years ago today, I was sitting in my parent's house (where I still lived) playing a full simulated season of Major League baseball on my Commodore 64 with some friends.

This is how the news appeared that day:

The American space shuttle, Challenger, has exploded killing all seven astronauts on board. The five men and two women - including the first civilian in space - were just over a minute into their flight from Cape Canaveral in Florida when the Challenger blew up.

The astronauts' families, at the airbase, and millions of Americans witnessed the world's worst space disaster live on TV.

The danger from falling debris prevented rescue boats reaching the scene for more than an hour.

In 25 years of space exploration seven people have died - today that total has been doubled.

President Ronald Reagan has described the tragedy as "a national loss".

The Challenger's flight, the 25th by a shuttle, had already been delayed because of bad weather. High winds, then icicles caused the launch to be postponed from 22 January.

But Nasa officials insist safety remains their top priority and there was no pressure to launch the shuttle today.

The shuttle crew was led by Commander Dick Scobee, 46. School teacher Christa McAuliffe, 37, married with two children, was to be the first civilian in space - picked from among 10,000 entries for a competition.

Speaking before the launch, she said: "One of the things I hope to bring back into the classroom is to make that connection with the students that they too are part of history, the space programme belongs to them and to try to bring them up with the space age."

President Reagan has put off his state of the union address. He was meeting senior aides in the Oval Office when he learned of the disaster.

We will never forget them

US President Ronald Reagan

He has called for an immediate inquiry into the disaster but he said the space programme would go on - in honour to the dead astronauts. Vice-President George Bush has been sent to Cape Canaveral to visit the victims' families.

This evening, the president went on national television to pay tribute to the courage and bravery of the seven astronauts.

He said: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

We weren't paying attention to the television. My mother, ever the space buff, was watching the launch. I heard her gasp. I looked up at the tv. I froze.

Nobody moved for a long time. Nobody spoke. It was one of the most horrifying, saddest moments of my life. To witness that, to see the flames and sparks and the smoke, and to know that you not only just watched people die, but you were witnessing a depressing piece of history - the moment was overwhelming. I have never forgotten it. I don't even need to watch the video because it is so firmly etched in my mind.


I was a safety patrol in fifth grade and we had gone outside to wait for the other kids to line up for the school buses. One of the bus drivers told us and I still remember standing on the steps in the bus with my little orange badge on.


I was in 6th grade. We were gathered around the tv to watch. I was so excited. The thought of going into space has always been of interest to me.

It was awful. I will never forget how I felt that day. That is all I could say over and over was "Oh my God, I just watched all those people die."

i was in elementary school and the library had a tv hooked up for us to watch the launch. i can't tell you how balistic a bunch of kids got that day. our classes were suspended so we could watch the news coverage. i'm actually shocked at how much i remember of it now that it has been brought up. it's sad.

I was a sophomore in high school. I came home from school, turned on the TV and there it was. I lived in Germany then, and AFN (Armed Forces Network) picked up NBC's Today show at 4 PM Central Europe Time, so it all happened pretty much in primetime for us.

I delivered the Stars & Stripes newspaper to my housing area then, so delivering the next morning's edition was quite a surreal experience. I remember school that next day being rather odd as well.

I was a senior in high school, sitting in Biology class. The classroom adjoined the A/V room, and one of the students in there walked into our class and told the teacher, "Mr. Walters, the space shuttle just exploded." I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was a freshman in college, but I have no specific memory of the day it happened. Actually, before I clicked over to the BBC link, I would have swore the disaster was in 1985 in my senior year of HS.


I was taking a science mid-term exam in 11th grade. They put the test on hold and wheeled a TV in and we watched the news. Feels like yesterday.

I was at work. One of my co-workers heard about it on the radio. I went home and brought in a small TV, and we watched the coverage most of the rest of the day.

I was getting on I-85 North bound in downtown Atlanta, Georgia on my way to go shopping during my lunch break from work. I had the radio on and at first thought it was a sick joke. Then when I realized it was true, I pulled off the highway and just cried.

When I got back to work, everyone was in shock.

My mom let me stay home that day to watch it. It was my birthday.

I'll never forget the Challenger, ever. It happened on my birthday :-(

My [future] wife had just come off duty in Cheyenne Mountain and had completed the analysis to ensure that there were no satellites or orbital debris in the projected launch path of the shuttle. She told me later that she was in tears because she "knew" it was her fault because she had missed something. There was a little relief later when it was revealed to be human error -- but not hers.

I had just moved 1200 mi. away from my family and was sitting on the floor in front of the TV playing with my 18 month old daughter. I happened to look up and see a breaking news item.I assumed it was just showing the launch, which was rather odd because they were starting to become routine. Then I noticed the booster rockets going in different directions (there was no sound coming from the TV at the time).
That same daughter tried to comfort me on the morning of Sept. 11 the same way she did that day: "Please Mommy don't cry"

I was in sixth-grade too. There were three classes of sixth-graders, and they huddled us all into the library to watch it. For some reason, apparently sixth grade was the cut-off for being mature enough to see what had happened. I still remember being so shocked, and sad, and disappointed. My teacher had been in the running to go up in the space shuttle, and was cut in the final rounds of consideration. For some reason, that made it hit home more.

I was a sophomore attending a Catholic all-boys boarding school. We were just finishing up our Western Civilization class when one of the students ran up to us and told us the Challenger had exploded. I remember literally disbelieving what had happened, thinking that this was a really bad joke.


I was watching with my family. My sister was so excited because they were launching the shuttle on her birthday. Now she remembers that the shuttle blew up on her birthday.

Oh well, at least she's twenty-one today so she can drink the memory away.

I had just landed at NAS Cecil Field (Jacksonville, FL) from doing a range-clearance mission off the coast of Cape Canaveral (we vectored the Navy/Coast Guard ships towards vessels that were downrange of the launch). We were still outside on the flight ramp on our way to the hangar and decided to stop and watch the launch (severe clear day).

After a few "oh no's" and "aw sh&ts" we raced up the stairs to the duty office to watch the only TV in the squadron. Everyone was really quiet and as I looked around I noticed that more than a few eyes were generating moisture.

I knew the pilot - he was an A-6 driver from my first air wing. Nice guy, quiet, but professional.


I was in 8th grade. I was spending a study hall hour to work on a Home Ec project. A teacher came in and told us that the shuttle had exploded. I, too, had a teacher that was in the final running to be on the shuttle. She was a wreck, and that seemed to make it harder. Her paperwork for some of the final consideration had gotten held up in the mail, and had been told that she probably would have been picked if it had arrived on time. She felt a sense of guilt for Christa McAuliff. We watched the news coverage in her class that day while she slowly fell apart in the back of the class.

I was a freshman in college. Those of us not in class had gathered in the common TV room on our floor to watch the launch. It took a couple of seconds for it to register that we had just watched people die. it was one of those things that you watch happen, yet you can't fathom what you are seeing is real.

I was installing an electrical box in the back of my factory when an employee ran in stammering, "We've got big trouble!" I thought he meant a problem at work, but he was referring to the shuttle. We all stood around watching the endless replays, grim and speechless....

Ironically, my college roommate tutored Ron McNair in physics back when we were sophomores at MIT. Said he was a real nice guy.

It was my senior year in high school, and I remember coming out of class when another guy ran up to me and said, "The Challenger just blew up." I replied "You asshole, that's not funny."

I was in my next class before I believed it. I didn't think there was any way it was possible.

I really don't remember the rest of the day. It was all a blur, but I remember sorrow, and I remember fear and desperation. I was so afraid that they'd died for nothing because the space program would be shut down.

I was in college at the time and working part time as a user assistant for the school's Office of Computing Services. I was on duty by myself when I heard what had happened. I couldn't close up the office to go find a television so I had to sit there wondering what had happened for a couple of hours until the next person on duty showed up. Then I made a bee-line for the student center, which was the closest place I could think of with a tv, and they were still rerunning the coverage. I remember there were a lot of us just standing there stunned as we watched that tape play over and over.

I was sitting at my desk at work, banging away at the computer, when I just got a funny feeling, and it seemed like the office was too quiet. I got up and turned on a co-worker's small TV and watched some snowy black and white coverage. When it finally became clear that the shuttle was truly lost, I walked over to the east side of the building and looked out the window, where I could see the split vapor trail still hanging in the sky. It was one of the few times that I hadn't gone outside to watch the launch from my office near Orlando, only 40 miles from the Cape. I still don't know whether I would rather have been watching or not.

BTW. Happy Birthday Vinnie...

I was at home from school because of a snow day. Young enough to still think, "what do I want to be when I grow up", I changed my mind that day.

Was in NYC on a business trip. Didn't get the details until evening when I got back to the hotel. That day was sure a come-down from the heady days of the Apollo program.

I stayed home sick that day with strep. I was in the 7th grade. My mom was on the couch watching with me, and when it blew up not realizing what had just happened she said, "How pretty!" Then she looked at me and saw my face and instantly realized it was anything but pretty.

I was a sophomore in high school. I was in English class. I thought somebody was joking with me when he told me this. So we took a T.V. from the library and found it to be true.

So many of us were in school that day! Sigh.

I was 13, in 9th grade home ec/shop class (they combined it for us). We had TVs mounted on the wall in every classroom (nice school in Rochester, MN), and suddenly the principal came on the intercom and instructed all teachers to immediately turn on the TVs.

They had one channel going out to the news feed (I think it was NBC or something, not CNN), and just as the teacher turned it on, they were replaying the explosion. None of us knew what the hell was happening, we were terrified - we thought it was a bombing or something.

Anyway, they called off classes the rest of the day - we got to stay in the class we were in when it happened - and they left the TV on so we could watch. Eventually the teacher tried to explain things but we were freaked out and stayed that way for a while.

I remember the exact placement of the desks, the kids I was in that class with - everything.

Oh, and the history and social studies classes had it on LIVE when it happened, because they had been studying the shuttles and knew all about Christa McAuliffe. I heard later that most of them screamed and panicked when it happened.

They were 12 and 13 years old, and saw it live.

And it reminds me why I am extremely glad that I was 29 years old on 09/11/01. I don't know how little kids who saw the whole thing play out that day have processed it or dealt with it.

I was in first grade. They rolled TV's into our lunchroom so we could all watch it live. Which we did, from the explosion all the way through Reagan's speech half an hour later and beyond. Horrible.

And I kept having this weird feeling throughout, looking around at my classmates that "didn't this happen yesterday? Why is everybody looking so shocked, we heard about this already?" I suppose it was because of shock or because I'd heard so much about the Challenger in previous days in school that I conflated "watching the Challenger blow up" and "watching the Challenger" period.

Happened during lunch, but I didn't hear abou tit until 11th grade History class right after. The teacher rolled ina TV and we all watched in silent shock. It was just like 9/11 for me, in that I was the teacher, and I got a TV into my Geometry class and we all watched for the entire hour in a stunned silence.


I was at work. A couple of my coworkers came up and said the shuttle blew up. I remember my response like it was yesterday.

"No fuckin'way!"

I grew up watching Alan Shepard Gus Grissom, John Glenn, and the rest of the Mercury astronauts go up without serious fuck-ups. I remember the horror when Apollo 1 burned on the pad and the elation when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon.

The shuttle launches were an everyday ho-hum experience. To think of one exploding during a launch was unfathomable. But it happened. And while everybody remembers Christa McAuliffe, the teacher on board, who remembers the other 6?

Ralph, this guy remembered someone other than McAuliffe.

I was in 6th grade. We were sitting in our classroom watching the shuttle launch. I remember having tears stream down my face after what had happened registered with my brain. I think I grew up a little faster that year.

I was only two years old when it happened, so i dont have any memories of it, but in my freshman year of high school, i had a biology teacher who has changed so many lives in such a positive way, it scares me how close he came to being selected to be the first civilian in space. the first time i remember hearing about the challenger was as he recounted his story, all along telling the class that everything happens for a reason, and how even though when he had been turned down as a very close runner (and upset about it), he is now grateful for being given the chance to live, and has passed that ideal onto hundreds, probabbly thousands of students in his career. he was a truly great teacher, and the challenger always gives me a feeling of hope and a feeling of perseverance.

I was stationed in West Berlin, and house-sitting for a friend who was TDY back to the States. I had the Armed Forces Network on TV that afternoon and saw the whole thing when they broke in on Good Morning America. It was the most shocking thing I remember seeing prior to 9/11.

I was a freshman in college and was in my room with some friends watching the launch on TV. I used to watch them as often as I could - even getting up at 4 a.m. to watch a launch. The second the explosion happened, I screamed. My friends looked at me like I was nuts at first when I started crying and said, "That was too early for SRB sep - that wasn't supposed to happen!" They used to tease me for being a "space geek", and I was taking a class that semester called "Explorations of Space". I still get chills when I think about it.

i still remember it... i was in high school, and i had just started to learn the joys of skipping class... i was just hangin out by my locker when one of my friends came up and told me. i couldn't believe it.

I was working at General Dynamics/Convair as a shear operator at the time. Busy figuring the cuts on some sheet stock, the the stores agent came up to me and said that the shuttle had blownup. My response was "You're fuckin' kidding. That isn't funny". He took me back to his radio- they had to be snuck in because they'd been banned long before- and heard it for myself. Ironically it was shuttle parts I was working on at that time.

I was nine years old and home from school, sick from something. I had fashioned a flying-v guitar using a few pieces of notebook paper, and was rocking out to prince and j geils. I paused for a few minutes to take a look at the shuttle launch. I remember the shuttle nearly breaking the atmosphere...


I was petrified. Being a big fan of the space program, I was sad most of the day.

I was a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, playing video games in the basement activity room of the University Center. I walked out into the open lobby area, and saw a bunch of folks gathered around the TV watching a NASA press conference. I had to watch for several minutes before I figured out what had happened. I don't remember anything else specific about that day except a lot of discussion about it with friends and co-workers later at my part-time job in the UT Music Hall. The whole campus was stunned.

I was in southern California, sitting at the kitchen table and talking to a friend on the phone; he was giving me hints about a job I was interviewing for in a couple of days -- it was with an aerospace business he'd worked for in the past. He and I were both watching the launch and talking about it.

The network had just gone to one of the long-distance telephoto shots, zoomed tight on the stack. I saw a couple of seconds' worth of unusual flare near the base of one of the solid boosters, and thought, "That's odd". Then that flare suddenly flashed to fill the screen. I thought for a second that staging had happened prematurely, that the solid strapon rockets had been released early; I even said to my friend, "It's too soon for SRB release!"

Then they cut to a closeup of the expanding cloud, and zoomed out until we could see the two solids, still burning, twisting their twin spiral paths away from that growing orange blossom. All I could say was, "Oh shit, oh shit." My friend said, "I can't talk" and hung up. It was obvious that no one was going to make it out alive; the burning fragments rising from the now-whitening vapor cloud were all too small to be a complete shuttle. But I still sat for hours and watched, wishing for miracles and crying, knowing there would be none.

A good friend of mine worked at the Cape, packing the parachutes for the Shuttle system. He was watching from the roof of the facility, and said the sound of the reentering pieces was like bacon frying. He said they all sat there, hoping to see the Shuttle come flying out of that cloud, scorched but intact. But he, like I, knew it was a false hope.

I got the job, and ironically got to work on the Shuttle a few years later. And I easily remember Christa McAuliffe, Ron McNair and Judith Resnik; Dick Scobee was the Commander, and I'm sure a bit of thought would bring back the other three names. I've seen some of the hardware they later recovered from the Atlantic seabed, and I know that at least one of the crew was still conscious for that long fall, because someone turned the emergency oxygen on for those who couldn't reach it.

I still cry when I remember this.

I remember being home sick from school that day. Mom was in the kitchen, baking cookies and I was in the den watching the launch on TV...back then it was still so new and fascinating...

I remember screaming when the shuttle exploded. My Mom came running in at my "OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!" and we both watched in stunned silence as the pieces rained down.

Time stood still for a while.