I was a 14 year old boy attending Largo High School on this day in 1986, the day Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, in the middle of Spanish class the fateful moment of 11:39 am.
My class ended around 12:30, and I had six minutes to trek the short distance to my science class that could easily be done in about one minute. My buddy at the time came up to me and said he’d heard Challenger had blown up after takeoff from Cape Canaveral. I would always tape the shuttle launches back then on VHS, so I had it on tape when I got back home. No, I didn’t keep the tape forever and ever. Who wants to be reminded of that?
CNN was the only network that covered it live from the launch onward. Still remember that Tom Mintier was the reporter who covered it live.
A lot of the kids at the school made fun of it, saying the teacher on board, Christa McAuliffe, had hit a wrong button. I told everyone it wasn’t something to laugh about, not that anyone listened to me. The astronauts knew the risks, but they expected to return a week or so later.
My lasting memory of the day was President Reagan’s speech at 5pm that afternoon. He was supposed to deliver his State Of The Union address that presidents do every winter. But it was considered poor taste to go on with that plan. It is one of my favorite speeches of any president in my lifetime. He and his speechwriters helped the healing process immensely.
It wasn’t the last disaster in our sorties in outer space. Columbia met its demise on February 1, 2003, killing seven astronauts on board. I remember watching the events of that fateful Saturday morning, and thought of how eerily similar that day was of January 28, 1986. Just spooked me out.
Of course, we’re know out of the space business, at least for now. The space shuttles sit in museums, and the next time astronauts get sent into space on our soil will probably be from private enterprise of some kind. It looks as if the final frontier will have to wait for generations down the line.