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Remembering Challenger

Memorial to the Seven Brave Souls of Challenger

Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary

Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetary

The First Space Shuttle Disaster

January 28, 1986 was an unforgettable day for Americans. Many of us just went to work as usual, perhaps not even thinking about the day's space shuttle launch. After all, by this time the shuttle missions seemed almost routine. This mission had been delayed before, so it wouldn't have surprised anyone if there were yet another delay. The weather in Florida had been unusually cold that year. It was just another weekday morning in America--until it wasn't anymore.

My generation grew up with the space program. We watched live as Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. We held our breath until Apollo 13 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. And we watched in horror as seven of the best-trained astronauts on Earth died in the line of duty. Years later, we also had to hear the news that the shuttle Columbia had disintegrated--another total loss of a shuttle crew.

(Photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Above is a picture of the Challenger Memorial in Arlington Cemetary.

Those Who Saw Will Never Forget

There is Nothing Routine About Space Flight

Never Take Success for Granted

In my office, we heard the news from a colleague who had taken an early lunch. He came back with a shocked look on his face and told us that "the shuttle blew up." At first I thought I had heard wrong--after all, we Americans had the space flight business well in hand, right?

Without internet or cell phones, those who had not watched the launch live on television soon heard the news from family members at home. We hoped for news that somehow the crew had survived the explosion. We watched on the evening news as the unforgettable launch footage was shown again. Even watching the film, it was hard to believe we had really lost those seven astronauts.

After the initial shock, every American wanted to know how such a disaster could happen. We had the best engineers in the world, so what went wrong? In the following weeks and months information began to come out. The Rogers Commission, tasked with investigating the accident, found one problem was a culture at NASA that allowed certain warnings to be ignored for the sake of avoiding repeated launch delays. Challenger launched after experiencing temperatures well below the temperatures at which key components of the shuttle had been tested. The failure of a single O-ring seal started the chain of events that ended in the breaking apart of the shuttle.

The Last Crew of Challenger - Mission STS 51-L

Challenger Crew

Challenger Crew

Back row: Ellison S. Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik

Front row: Michael J. Smith (pilot,) Dick Scobee (commander,) and Ron McNair

This mission was watched live by schoolchildren across America because of Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space Program to go on a shuttle mission. She had a series of lessons prepared that she would have taught from orbit. President Reagan announced the Teacher in Space program in 1984. In 1998 Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup for the Challenger mission, went into space as a Mission Specialist aboard Endeavor.

Learn More about Challenger and Her Crew

Where were you when you heard about the Challenger?

slappywalker on July 19, 2014:

I was in elementary school when it happened. I'll never forget that day because I actually had to stay home from school because I was sick. I was on the couch watching the launch by myself, and it took me a while to realize just how bad the situation was.

Samuel Wright from Bakersfield, Ca. on November 08, 2013:

I was in my Mechanical Drawing class when this happened. I too was a child of the space-race and loved every time National Geographic released another issue about Apollo, Soyuz, Skylab, etc. When this happened I think there was not a single dry eye in the place.

And then again with Columbia.

Space and Space travel are dangerous. Astronauts know this when they get in these vessels and head up. It takes a special breed of human to do this.

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Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on August 13, 2013:

@longlakelifestyle: I'm so glad this was informative. Thanks for stopping by.

longlakelifestyle on August 13, 2013:

I didn't even know about Challenger. Thank you for this lens.

MissRubyStars on August 06, 2013:

In class (2nd grade)..the teachers brought in a TV to watch during class.

Carol Houle from Montreal on August 04, 2013:

I was watching it. I still remember the shock, the chill and the goosebumps all over my arms and head.

Elizabeth Braun from Sheffiled, UK on August 04, 2013:

I can't remember where I was, as I was only 14 at the time - perhaps I was at school! Still, I do remember it and have always been glad that, much as I'm keen on travel, I'm very happy to stay *on* the Earth! Poor people who died...=(

Bill from Gold Coast, Australia on August 03, 2013:

I was a teenager when this event happened and I remember it clearly. It was all over the TV even here in Australia and repeated over and over again. It was hard to believe that it was happening whilst watching the footage. Although I was aware it happened in 1986, it still does not seem like 27 years ago already!

Congrats on LOTD.

Karen Kay from Jackson, MS on August 03, 2013:

In Criminal Justice Class at Southern Miss.

Nnadi bonaventure Chima from Johanesburg on August 03, 2013:

Highly informative lens , thanks for taking us down memory lane to that fateful day

fyrdragon350 on August 02, 2013:

i was watching tv that morning watching the launch on the news..i was so sad.

shewins on August 02, 2013:

I was a young mom at that time. I saw it on TV. I wasn't watching the launch, but of course as soon as I turned on the TV it was on every channel. Great job on this lens, congrats on winning the "My Generation" quest.

anonymous on August 02, 2013:

I was having lunch at a restaurant with my boss and a client. A horribly unforgettable moment. Congratulations on getting LotD!

amosvee on August 02, 2013:

I was at work, where we did not have a TV. I think a customer came in and told us. I watched the video above, of the launch, and as always, I have the strange impulse to hope that it won't explode.

Mary Stephenson from California on August 02, 2013:

I was home watching it on TV, that was pretty shocking. All the things we like not to have to remember such as President Kennedy being shot, a sad bit of history.

SavioC on August 02, 2013:

I was in college when I heard about it. It came as a big shock as we in India always look up to America and when things like this happens it always feels bad specially for the crew and their families. God bless their souls.

SavioC on August 02, 2013:

I was in college when I heard about it. It came as a big shock as we in India always look up to America and when things like this happens it always feels bad specially for the crew and their families. God bless their souls.

girlfriendfactory on August 02, 2013:

To this day I can't look at the footage, a picture, read about it or talk about it without tears. I was in high school when it happened and most school kids watched or heard announcements about what happened due to Christa McAuliffe. The news coverage was relentless that entire day, and for a solid week or two it's all anyone talked about, especially in my family. My grandfather had worked out at NASA for several years in the VAB building and even sat in Mission Control during the Gemini and Apollo launches, right through the launch to the moon, shortly after I was born right across from the Cape. We moved to Colorado in late 1969 and he no longer worked for Morton-Thiokol, but you can imagine how closely he followed it anyway. Such a devastating tragedy.

Congrats on your LoTD!!!

joseph-sottile-16 on August 02, 2013:

I was in the teacher's lounge watching the launch when disaster hit. I will never forget that moment.

ghoststorylover on August 02, 2013:

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was in school when the principle told us what happened. So sad.

Joanie Ruppel from Keller, Texas on August 02, 2013:

I just have to add, I tried to watch the footage you provided and had to stop it, couldn't rewatch that fateful moment. My stomach is in my throat. I remember writing a letter to the McAuliffe family after it happened.

Joanie Ruppel from Keller, Texas on August 02, 2013:

At home babysitting a playgroup and we had Sesame Street on PBS so there was not a TV interruption. My ER doctor friend called and asked if she could drop her child off so she could go to the hospital. (In an extreme emergency when it is unknown what really happened, we assume it could be a national issue so doctors are called to their hospitals.) She is the one who told me what happened.

knysna on August 02, 2013:

I was ready to finish high school and join the army and this incident was a reality check, one would never think that with all that technology and money put into a program like this that something like this could happen

Delia on August 02, 2013:

Congratulations on LOTD! I was living in Missouri and as I was driving home from my grocery shopping, I was listing to the radio as the announcement came...I could barely breath...all I kept on saying over and over, oh God why? Finding out about the O rings just made things worse.

sagebrushmama on August 02, 2013:

It was my 21st birthday, and I had gotten out of Spanish class when I heard. A friend greeted me not with birthday regards but rather, "Did you hear about the space shuttle?" I completed my education degree a little over two years later in Math education, and I still think about the teacher, Christa McAuliffe, and her family's sacrifice and loss that day.

Leiping on August 02, 2013:

I don't really remember because I was ten years old and here in the Netherlands they did not spend too much time on the launch I think. I only remember that they talked about the teacher Christa McAuliffe being onboard.

Thomas F. Wuthrich from Michigan on August 02, 2013:

Like everyone else, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. What a horrible day that was.

jemacb on August 02, 2013:

I would never ever ever forget that moment. Saw it on TV while at University. Very sad indeed.

hkhollands on August 02, 2013:

I was in Algebra class, and I remember my teacher crying. She said Christa McAuliffe would forever be a hero to all women. I enjoyed your lens.

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on August 02, 2013:

@Namsak: It warms the heart to know that nations come together in support.

Namsak on August 02, 2013:

It was not only the USA which was shocked and saddened by the loss of Challenger. We in the UK - especially those of us who followed the space programme with keen interest were also stunned and saddened. We will not forget them either nor will we forget Gus Grissom, Ed White or Roger Chaffee.

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on August 02, 2013:

@Mellithorpe: How awful to be so close and know there was nothing you could do.

Mellithorpe on August 02, 2013:

I live in Florida, so most of the time we can see the trails or when the sun reflected off of the spacecraft but that day it was clear and we could see better than ever before. We could see very well. I was at work and we were all outside watching it, then we saw the unusual and enormous smoke trail and instantly knew something was terribly wrong. We went back inside to the TV to see what happened and all I can remember is crying and being stunned and in a daze.

RuthMadison on August 02, 2013:

I was four years old and hearing about the Challenger is one of my very earliest memories.

I didn't know about radio because my parents only ever listened to records. So I thought what we were hearing was prerecorded on a record and I couldn't understand why anyone would make a record that was so sad, with people so upset.

ChocolateLily on August 02, 2013:

I was not born just yet, but I've heard my mom talk about it. It was so sad, and more so, because it could have been prevented. I do remember everything about 9/11, which was a somewhat similar tragic event. Congrats on LotD! Very well done article.

ikdj lm on August 02, 2013:

Nice lens, I remember watching it on TV as it happened. One of those shocking events that you remember for ever.

JaspinderKaur on August 02, 2013:

Nice lens. Thanx for sharing.

Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on August 02, 2013:

I was actually watching the launch live on television and could not believe what happened at all. It was particularly hard to take because of Christa Mc Auliffe it would have been the same as losing Chris Hadfield on the ISS everyone including all of the school kids were watching them live as they were billed as special heroes to them. May God bless them all. I still can not imagine what makes them want to take the risk, but Chris Hadfield always seemed like he was addicted to the experience and would go again if he got the chance. It is explorers like this that keep pushing the boundaries and help us in so many fields. Well done a really great LOTD!

LeroySmith1 on August 02, 2013:

Wow, I don't think anyone can forget the first time they saw that footage. It's still heartbreaking today, especially when you think about that poor school teacher who had the "honor" of going into space.

AntonioM23 on August 02, 2013:

Nice lens,thanks for sharing,I was really sad because these astronauts.

OILDALE1 on August 02, 2013:

I was an elementary student when this tragedy took place. This subject came to my mind and I was just telling my kids about the challenger two days ago.What a coincidence That I stumble across this lens today..great lense.

Raymond Eagar on August 02, 2013:

I heard about it on the news .

LoriBeninger on August 02, 2013:

Like the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, until the day i die i will remember exactly where i was when news broke that the Challenger was lost. This was a beautiful lens about a horrible moment. You made me cry. Thank you.

SBPI Inc on August 02, 2013:

One of the saddest events of our time. All heroes in my book.


PS: may they rest in peace and with God

Laurel Johnson from Washington KS on August 02, 2013:

I was at work at our local hospital and saw it on the news in a patient's room.

Very well done. Congrats on LOTD.

pawpaw911 on August 02, 2013:

It is one of those events that you will always remember where you were when you heard the news. Congratulations on LOTD. Well done. Love your charity by the way.

anonymous on August 02, 2013:

I was in middle school at the time. There were kids in my English class talking about this incident and laughing about it. Made me mad that they laughed about it because I didn't think it was funny at all. In fact it made me feel sad. Even at that age, I still thought about those poor astronauts' families and friends and what they must have thought hearing that news. My English teacher, Mrs. Andrews, was asking those kids how they could hear news like that and laugh about it. At one point she started crying, She talked about it throughout my last 2 hours I had with her. Her perception of why kids would laugh about something like that is there's too much violence in TV programs. And those were the days when the violence wasn't nearly as bad as it is today.

Susan Deppner from Arkansas USA on August 02, 2013:

I was watching it with my two very young children. I remember just staring at the screen in disbelief, praying with the whole country that what it looked like happened didn't really happen. Sad day. Congratulations on your quest win and Lens of the Day!

Elaine Chen on August 02, 2013:

interesting topic wrote with rich content and neat layout

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on August 02, 2013:

@writerkath: Bless your heart! I think everyone watching at the time seemed calm because nobody believed what they were seeing--except a handful of engineers who had warned about the O-rings and the low temperatures and immediately realized what must have happened.

msseiboi on August 02, 2013:

In the news..

ripburns on August 02, 2013:

I was to young to remember.

writerkath on August 02, 2013:

First of all, my hands are shaking as I type this - and Congratulations on a well thought out and presented LOTD. Today - as I look at your page - and you may not believe this, but this is the FIRST TIME I have actually seen this coverage. On that dreadful day, I was at South Pole Station working on a sheet metal job - and back then, there was no TV in Antarctica. I had gone down for breakfast, and said good morning to Michael, the cook at Pole. He responded, "The space shuttle just exploded!" The news had evidently been either radioed or teletyped - not sure how Pole got its news. But, I never, ever watched footage until this very moment when I made the decision to go ahead and look at it. It astonishes me as to how calm the announcer and the person at NASA were as they reported the "major malfunction." And now please excuse me while I burst into tears...

Renaissance Woman from Colorado on August 02, 2013:

I will never forget this day. I was at work in an exciting new job when I heard the news and headed immediately to a television monitor that had been set up. It was beyond shocking. I was totally stunned. I think it really hit me hard because I dreamed of being a teacher making a space mission (like Christa McAuliffe). Our school district built two schools named in honor of members of this tragic flight. Thank you for honoring the crew with this feature and congrats on LotD. It's important for us to remember.

SusanAston on August 02, 2013:

Very fitting tribute.

LadyDuck on August 02, 2013:

I remember that day, we were watching TV with my mother in Italy, it was late afternoon, as soon as the disaster struck people were confused, they did not realized immediately what happened. It was a great shock.

Erin Mellor from Europe on August 02, 2013:

It was late afternoon in England, we watched on TV, as it was exciting, particularly as there was a teacher on board, it felt like it was opening up access and understanding to everyone. I remember feeling confused at first, it took a moment to register that something had gone horribly wrong. Then a feeling of complete shock, just staring at the TV. I think people all over the world were doing the same thing, stunned and confused for a long time, then I remember the horror I felt when I realised that the poor families of the astronauts who were watching the same pictures too.

PaigSr from State of Confusion on August 02, 2013:

As long as I had the time I would watch every shuttle launch including this one. I do remember seeing the whole thing on TV as it happened. What I did not remember is how long ago it was. Nicely done and a well earned LOTD.

maryseena on August 02, 2013:

The mission was American, most of the crew were American, but that day, the world wept with America. Just like it did on September 11, 2001 ( world Trade Center) and again on 1st Feb 2003 (Columbia disaster). Love your lens for keeping the memory alive.

LeslieMirror on August 02, 2013:

I remember how terrible it was to hear about such news. I was almost crying! =(

Meganhere on August 02, 2013:

I was in Hong Kong, with no access to an English-speaking news program, when it happened, then on a flight back to Melbourne, Australia. When my father met me at the airport he said, 'What about the Challenger!' I said, 'Uh, what about the Challenger?' When he told me I was so shocked and upset I didn't know what to say. I cannot imagine what it was like for the families, watching that disaster unfold right before their eyes.

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on August 01, 2013:

@Dusty2 LM: I don't think anybody got much work done that day.Thanks for sharing your memories.

Dusty2 LM on August 01, 2013:

I was at work. Everyone had taken a break so we could watch the Challenger take off on TV. We were all really excited, clapping hands, cheering and patting each other on the back after takeoff and then.......; complete silence. We all looked at each other in disbelief at what we just saw. The Challenger erupting into pieces with the smoke trails following each piece back into the ocean. Was that real? Was that fiction? Everyone was in a state of shock and silence filled the room. For the rest of the day we would peek into the break room to try to get a handle on what happened to the Challenger and crew, especially, for Christa McAuliffe. I can still picture the look of shock on her parents and classroom kids faces in disbelief. This is another tragic day in history that I will long remember. Appreciate you sharing this historical event, kschimmel, and my vote is for you. Have a Great Day!

mamabrat lm on July 31, 2013:

In my third grade class.

Susan R. Davis from Vancouver on July 31, 2013:

It was my senior year in high school, and we were eagerly awaiting the launch. TVs were set up all over school, and everyone was watching. Not a single teacher would even hint that there was something better to be doing - like lessons. So nearly everyone was standing around the TVs watching the launch when we saw the explosion. I'll never forget the shock, the disbelief, and the horrible wrenching in my gut to realize that Challenger and her crew were just ... gone.

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on July 31, 2013:

@PDX tours: My mom and Granny took us to visit the Space Center when I was young. I got to see Skylab being moved to the launch pad.

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on July 31, 2013:

@lesliesinclair: My Granny also watched every possible liftoff/landing. She never lost her sense of wonder at it all.

PDX tours on July 31, 2013:

This tragedy happened one day before my 5th birthday. I grew up in Tampa, and the Kennedy Space Center never felt far-- I remember taking field trips or vacations there. I would've been in Kindergarten, but I don't have a vivid memory of hearing the news.

PDX tours on July 31, 2013:

This tragedy happened one day before my 5th birthday. I grew up in Tampa, and the Kennedy Space Center never felt far-- I remember taking field trips or vacations there. I would've been in Kindergarten, but I don't have a vivid memory of hearing the news.

lesliesinclair on July 31, 2013:

I was alone in my mountain top unfinished home. We had just begun using television and I had it on so I saw the explosion over and over that day - mesmerized in shock. All of these space adventures remind me of my grandfather, who would have been 120 now, used to get up during the night to watch as space flights take off or splash down. I suppose it was inevitable, but it was shockingly painful still.

TanoCalvenoa on July 31, 2013:

I was in my first grade classroom, and I remember it quite well. Although this event was incredibly sad, it got me interested in space shuttles and space exploration for the first time.

Kimberly Schimmel (author) from Greensboro, NC on July 31, 2013:

I was in my office in downtown Chicago, working on a FORTRAN program.

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