Challenger Shuttle Disaster - 30 Years Ago Today

30 years ago today, January 28th, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take off, the result of what was later discovered as faulty O-rings I believe. has a solid article about it along with infographics and videos of the like, if you’re unaware of what happened.

For me, I was in 6th grade, and we had gathered together in one of the classrooms to watch it live. I still remember the stunned silence after the shuttle exploded. We were pretty much in shock for the rest of the day, so I don’t recall if any further teaching got done.

Do you have a story about where you were when it happened?

I was in grade school, hanging out on top of one of the playground structures with some friends. A kid comes out and tells us that the Space Shuttle blew up. I think I told him something deeply insightful like “You’re lying - that can’t happen!” Then he convinced us to come in and look at the TV. It was pretty shocking.

I remember my junior high class watching it live. When the shuttle blew up, there was a few minutes when even the newscasters didn’t know quite what was going on. Reports drifted into the newsroom between uncomfortable pauses. My teacher (I am sad to say I don’t remember her name) had a slowly growing sense of horror as she realized that something had gone disastrously wrong. When the news finally said that the shuttle exploded, I think my teacher’s fuse blew. No one had told her what to do if this live presentation went south. She kept stammering as she went back and forth on turning the TV off or keeping it on. When the class period ended, we just shuffled out to the next class while she sat at her desk with the TV still going.

It was pretty freaky for me to see.

I would have been in my 1st year at college and between living in the dorms and going to class, I don’t believe I heard what happened for quite a while. I don’t recall having any TVs in the dorms that could actually pick up even a half decent signal and I am pretty sure we didn’t have TV rooms then. I seem to recall we only had one TV station and it was like 100 miles away.

The biggest thing for me was I felt completely sheltered from this major event in our history and really felt disconnected from it due to where I was at the time. It never really hit me how big it was for one reason or another, but I believe mostly because I didn’t see any TV coverage and was deep into my studies.

I was in elementary school as well (3rd grade). We were all in class when one of the teachers came in to our room and told us all to follow her to the pod area (our school was set up with 4 wings, each wing had 4 classrooms around a central hub that they called the “pod area”). The shuttle had already exploded and the broadcasters were discussing what had happened and what might have gone wrong. The teacher told us “you need to watch this. This is a historical moment”. We sat there in silence watching the replay over and over as the speculation continued. Made a lasting impression on me. I remember very little about school during that time period, but that day is vividly imprinted on my memory.

I was in the 4th grade, I remember our teacher wheeling a TV in for everyone to watch and we all thought it was amazing to A) get to watch TV in school and B) watch a shuttle take off. It was a big deal, and when it blew up it rocked us hard. I had no idea it was in January that happened though, let alone that 30 years had passed. Cripes.

Wow, that’s like the complete opposite of my own experience, Kelan. Fascinating.

I was at work (I was an intern just out of college.)

This being pre-Internet, the first I heard about it was getting in the elevator to go to lunch. Inside there was a xeroxed sheet posted saying, “A television has been set up in the lobby for those who want to see the news about the Challenger tragedy.” And of course my first thought was, “What Challenger tragedy?”

My mom was an elementary school teacher, and so she was super excited for the launch because of Christa McAuliffe being on the flight. I was home sick from school that day, so it was my mom and me at home, pulled up to the TV to watch the launch. Suffice to say, she was absolutely stricken when the shuttle exploded. As was I - I’d received an autographed picture of an astronaut not too long before after writing to the program because I was a wee little space nerd. That was a rough day.

I was working at a lab on a navy base. Shuttle flights were routine. Nobody even knew they were going up. When word came about the explosion. The place pretty much shut down for the day. The next day wasn’t much better. The Challenger and 9/11 are the two “JFK” or “Pearl Harbor” moments of my generation. “Where were you when…”

I think I watched it at home. I would’ve been five, so I had started kindergarten that year, but that was only a half day thing. I honestly can’t remember if I went to morning or afternoon kindergarten, I guess whichever one would’ve had me home during the day when the shuttle exploded.

It’s possible I’m mis-remembering, maybe it happened while I was at school and I saw it on the news later, but I don’t think so. Of course, at five, I barely remember anything at all, so I don’t have a meaningful story about how I felt or how people around me reacted. That I remembered it at all at that age is the significance for me.

I remember the day quite well. It was my Junior year in high school, and I was in the back seat of my parent’s VW Bus making out with my girlfriend. I’m not particularly clear on why we were not in school – I suspect it was a teacher work day. Anyway, we had a local music station on in the car and I was about halfway to second base when they interrupted the Eagles with the news.

Was a freshman at Mizzou and just gotten out of my 9:40 Astronomy class and walked back to the dorms. The launch was just happening and we were watching it in my friends room on first floor of the dorms while we waited for a couple of other people to join us before heading to the cafeteria for lunch at 11.

We missed lunch. Will never forget that day, and the awful, pained looks on the faces of Christa MacAuliffe’s family. A lot of us were either pre J-school or J-school, and the biggest debate following this was the networks (maybe NBC?) continuing to cut back to her family initially for reaction shots when it was clear that something terrible had happened.

I remember it distinctly. I was in 7th grade, and in band class. Someone interrupted and told us about it and we all just dashed off to find a television. I do remember that being a distinct shock to my understanding of how things should work, similar to when my mom picked me up from grade school and told me President Reagan had been shot. Wait, shuttles can blow up? That’s not a thing that can happen!

I was home from work. Wife called me and told me to turn on the TV. I was just devastated. It felt a lot like watching the Twin Towers coming down. Reality wasn’t working right.

Big Bird was supposed to be on the Challenger.

“I once got a letter from NASA, asking if I would be willing to join a mission to orbit the Earth as Big Bird, to encourage kids to get interested in space,” Spinney recalled last month in an essay published by The Guardian. “There wasn’t enough room for the puppet in the end, and I was replaced by a teacher.”

Was at work, in an office in Fairfax, Virginia. Came out of my cell in the SCIF and the TV in the non-secure portion of the floor had it on. Everyone was pretty stunned, most of us not having really experienced the earlier space disaster of Apollo 1 (1967). Stuff like this didn’t happen any more, how could it?

I was also in sixth grade. We watched it on TV, and I remember the teachers (and most of the students) being in a funk for the rest of the day. We were supposed to do a bunch of lessons “from Space!” via (non 2-way) TV hookups with the Challenger.

When I was ruminating on this earlier, I had a shocking realization – the astronauts who died on the Challenger would all be in at least striking distance of retirement today, if not well into their retirements. Kind of scary to realize how much time has passed.

Challenger, 9/11, and Columbia are all singular “where were you when” moments for me.

I was just thinking the same thing.

I was pretty young, and it was way before 24h news channels or the internet. Probably learned about it and saw the videos in the evening news with my parents. I also remember the photos in the newspapers the next day. The footage of the debris and the rest of the booster rockets painting an eerie image into the sky was both utterly fascinating and haunting. It might have been the first time I saw someone die. I mean, you didn’t see any bodies, but you saw the explosion and knew that people had been in the space shuttle. Seeing the rocket explode and knowing that someone’s life ended right there was a new experience to me.