STS-51-L "Lest We Forget"

Dick Scobee
Ellison Onizuka
Michael J. Smith
Judith Resnick
Greg Jarvis
Ron McNair
Christa McAuliffe

Jan. 28, 1986*

They reached forth their hands, and touched the face of God.*

I was 3 days shy of my 10th birthday and in school that day. I remember my teacher getting called out of the classroom and coming in noticeably flustered, but she wouldn’t tell us why. The principal made the determination that the most memorable event in our lives to that point was not to be mentioned until school was over. So I went home and my father, not yet although soon to be gone, was watching the television with the same look the teachers had on his face.

It wasn’t until well after 3 in the afternoon that I found out about it. For a 9-year-old fan of the space program, it was a crushing blow. Until 9/11, that was my Kennedy assassination, my where were you? moment, and even after that to a large extent because I was an adult when 9/11 happened.

Dear God, I’m getting old.
I was in grad school, and heard about the “crash of the space shuttle” on my way in – it wasn’t until I got in that I found out what really happened.

I co-authored two papers with one of them. The news was an incredible shock.

I was in college, sitting with my friends in the cafeteria. We were all watching on the big screen television. We watched in amazement as the shuttle went up, and watched in horror as the shuttle broke apart. It was the only time that cafeteria fell completely silent.

Our kids were studying space recently, and I pulled up the footage of this and Columbia to show them. I saw the same looks on their faces that we had back then.

God rest their souls.

Whenever I think of Challenger, I also remember Apollo 1, which burned 19 years and one day before the *Challenger *explosion, January 27, 1967.

Gus Grissom
Ed White
Roger Chaffee

It’s also the date that we had theBlackthorn accident here in Tampa Bay. This claimed the lives of 23 Coasties.

I was in high school when this happened. In grad school, one of the class professors was talking about how people our age didn’t really have one of “those moments” of national grief. We pretty much all said “the shuttle” in unison. At the time, of course, the Columbia was several years away from its unfortunate end, so it was simply “the shuttle disaster/explosion” to us.

I think being in school really brought it home for you, if you were a student. On board was a civilian and someone you could have seen on a daily basis, a teacher selected for the mission. We were too young to have been affected by the Apollo or other incidents. We knew space travel was dangerous but never really believed it, until then.

The Challenger explosion is the first thing I remember ever seeing on TV (I was 3.5 at the time).


I was in 3rd grade and it was Stuffed Animal Day at school, which turned out to be a good thing because we all ended up hugging those stuffed animals, comforting ourselves.

I remember seeing a 4th grade teacher walking up and down the hall with a little radio up to his ear. Eventually, I believe there was an announcement made by the principal and at some point a tv was wheeled into our classroom and we watched the news coverage.

I remember it being very, very quiet throughout the entire school. It was just shocking.

It’s still hard. It’s still worth it. Always has been, always will be.

I can still see Peter Jennings, my television and the opening through the kitchen cabinets in an otherwise long-forgotton apartment. The image is seared into my mind from sheer shock at the words I heard him say.

Most of us had begun to think the Shuttle program infalliable. They’d made it look almost routine. Then that horrible, horrible day.

Two years ago, my husband & I went on the tour that takes you onto Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. We saw a lot of things that filled us with awe, but the one that touched me the most was during a largely unassuming stretch of road - and the tour guide announced that we were passing some old ICBM silos; one of them contains the remains of the Challenger.

I could not help but get choked up. I will never forget that day 24 years ago.

I was working nights then, so was home during the day. I never watched daytime TV, but for some reason turned it on . . . just in time to see the explosion.

It’s also my cousin’s birthday, and also the anniversary of the death of my brother’s first fiancée.

My mother died the night before the Challenger explosion, so the two are tied together in my mind. In fact, the end of January is not a good time for me; in addition to my mother, my grandmother, an aunt, and my wife all died then.

I was at school at the time (it would have been third grade), but didn’t find out immediately. I think that was more due to a break in communications than a deliberate policy, though.

I was the first one home, and was working on homework when I found out, at about 4 PM. And promptly went into denial, thinking up all sorts of ways they might conceivably have been able to save themselves. Had I seen the footage on TV, I probably would have realized there was no hope, but I hadn’t.

I was at sea on a PRC ship, the Xiangyanghong #14. A guy came into my cabin and said “I am so sorry about your space ship.”

I had no idea what he was talking about. It took about 15 minutes for me to have any understanding, then I went up on the flying bridge with the shortwave until I got the BBC.