Challenger disaster – 25 years ago

I published my Flashback Friday post for today and immediately remembered that I had wanted to use today to highlight 1986, but since I can’t keep thoughts in my brain, I forgot.

I don’t want to let this go by though, because watching the Challenger explode is something that will always be ingrained in my memory. When we learned about JFK’s assassination in school, we were given the assignment to go home and ask our families where they were when they learned of his death, because our teachers knew that it was one of those things people don’t forget. I’ve had three of those experiences in my life; the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, 9/11, and the Challenger explosion.

I was in fifth grade when it happened. Our teacher, Mrs. Richardson, had applied to be the teacher who would be on that mission, and had spent the days leading up to the launch talking about Christa McAuliffe, and the Space Program in general.

In California our school day had just started when she turned on the television and 20 some odd 10 year olds fidgeted in their seats, waiting for the shuttle to launch.

Off it went! We’d watched launches in class before – prior to the Challenger explosion launches were Big Deals, and maybe this is hindsight talking, but this one seemed special. I think it was because Christa McAuliffe was on the shuttle, and we knew our teacher could have been her. It was exciting to think that someday, one of us might be in that seat.

I remember Mrs. Richardson was just about to turn the TV off, the shuttle was up, and class should begin, when the entire class fell silent. Palpably silent. The noises and sniffles and whatnot that kids make ceased. Entirely. What had just happened? What was all the smoke?

Thirty seconds later the classroom door flew open and the other fifth grade teacher rushed in – the imagery is forever seared in my mind – she was a kooky teacher, had kind of wild hair, and dressed very bohemian. She burst into the classroom and said, “The space shuttle exploded.”

I remember our teacher shuffling us all into the classroom next door to watch the news coverage. Looking back on it, I wonder if she needed to feel the presence of another adult. Someone to help her explain what had just happened.

A feel-good story that turned tragic – it was all anyone talked about for days. I remember both teachers crying that day. I don’t remember whether or not I did.

Twenty-five years later, I remember being sad for Christa’s children. I remember being confused. I remember seeing the explosion over, and over on TV. Mostly, I remember the feeling of disbelief.

What are your memories of the Challenger explosion?


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7 responses to “Challenger disaster – 25 years ago

  1. Janine

    I think we watched it too but I don’t remember seeing it explode.
    I do remember the Punky Brewster episode about it though.

  2. I was only 4, so I don’t remember the Challenger but I wanted to tell you your OTHER two “I’ll always remember where I was” moments are the same as mine. We lived in Monterrey in 1989.

  3. babyinbrooklyn

    I was in 2nd grade so I don’t remember much, though I do remember there was a teacher in my school who had also applied to be on the Challenger. I have vague memories of seeing it explode but that may just be from the news coverage after.

    Other things that have burned memories in my mind are: John Lennon’s death – I was only a wee one but my mom was a major Beatles fan so it was a BIG DEAL in our household. I remember me & my sister got yelled at for being too rambunctious while my parents tried to watch the news, and I remember my mom crying a lot.

    Also, of course, 9/11. I’m actually thinking about writing about it for the anniversary – and yes I will need to start doing that now. I watched the 2nd plane hit the towers from my rooftop in Brooklyn and should have been at work in my office exactly 2 blocks from the trade center that morning. I have so many memories from that day.

    • My husband and I were just talking about Lennon’s death as one of those moments. I have no specific memory of it – but he remembers his mother being VERY visibly upset by it.

      I’d love to read your 9/11 post. O’s birthday is September 11, and I feel almost disrespectful when people ask me his birthday and I reply nine-eleven, even thought it’s followed by a different year.

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