Join 3,418 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Challenger Explodes
January 28, 2003 9:01 AM   Subscribe

17 years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all seven aboard. I share this primarily as I recall this being the first where-were-you-when of my childhood. So where were you?
posted by xmutex (161 comments total)

 
15 years, xmutex. Don't add 10 years to our lives!!
posted by archimago at 9:03 AM on January 28, 2003


In high school, walking past the school AV room while the staff and a few (3) students were watching it on the news dumbfounded. I caught it about 2 seconds after it happened, and watched the rest live.
posted by CrazyJub at 9:04 AM on January 28, 2003


thank you archimago... I was wondering how the hell I remembered something from when I was 1.
posted by twine42 at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2003


I was apparently attending high school at age 7, since that's where I was when I heard about it :) I can remember the exact place in the building where I was, who told me, who was there, the disbelief... I too headed to the AV room.
posted by holycola at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2003


Gah, stupid 2 next to the stupid 1 key.
posted by xmutex at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2003


Actually it's 17 years.
posted by Bonzai at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2003


My elementary school was one of the schools hooked up to the live satellite feeds from NASA to each of the 50 states. My class was actually one of the ones that would get to have a direct link with the astronauts once in orbit. We were all gathered watching the launch with the local media filming, recording and photographing us. It is a terrible memory from my childhood. Thanks, and I mean this without sarcasm, for posting this. It really was a striking and pivotal moment in my life and probably helped me deal with watching the 9/11 attacks without losing my mind.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:07 AM on January 28, 2003


Okay, now that we've gotten the date straightened out - I, along with everyone else in my class, was watching the launch live on TV. I seem to remember that, when the explosion occured, the teachers were all quite a bit more shocked than the students - it didn't hit us at first exactly what had happened.

And then, of course, since I was a boy in elementary school, the inevitable tasteless jokes cropped up a few days afterward. "What does this button do?" In retrospect, it's a pretty awful thing to say, but - hey, elementary-school kids are like that sometimes. [pretty sure we've linked there recently - I'm just referring to it again, that's all]
posted by wanderingmind at 9:08 AM on January 28, 2003


Where was I? No bloody idea. It doesn't say what time of day (GMT) it was either, so I can't guess...

I'd guess I heard about it on the six o'clock news when I was watching tv...
posted by twine42 at 9:08 AM on January 28, 2003


It just dawned on me that I was older then than most of you are now.
posted by timeistight at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in 4th or 5th grade, we watched it on TV, and it was the first shuttle I'd ever watched take off, and wasn't paying close enough attention to listen to the radio transmissions. So I didn't know that there'd been any problem, and the teacher's attempts to change the subject afterward apparently worked, because I don't remember there being so much as a comment in the transition back to work. It wasn't until later that I learned that anything had gone wrong.
posted by jozxyqk at 9:10 AM on January 28, 2003


i was, for some reason, home at the time, watching on the tele with my grandmother and my brother, all excited. then thing went up and boom, and we all just stared at the television for a few minutes. no one knew what to say...
posted by xmutex at 9:14 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in 8th grade, just after 1st period earth science class, standing at my locker, when my friend Brian Bailey walks up and tells me "the space shuttle exploded." He was half-laughing at the impossibility of what he'd said. Of course I didn't believe him...
posted by gsalad at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in 5th grade, sitting in the school hallway watching it on TV. Like wanderingmind, it took a bit for it to sink in. What made it a little more real, and helped stave off the inevitable tasteless jokes, was the fact that Christa McAuliffe's son was in Grade 3 of my school. His entire class had flown to Cape Canaveral to see the big launch. Gah.

Afterward, I remember coming up with this idea all on my own to make up a person whose fault the crash was and then destroy them in effigy (since funds were limited at the age of 10, a piece of paper with the fake name on it). This kind of creeps me out now, but at the time it seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to handle the situation.
posted by hilatron at 9:15 AM on January 28, 2003


Fifth grade, Mrs. Thomas' English class. Don't remember what we were reading. Principal came on over the PA. I think there was a moment of silence, then an assembly or something.
posted by condour75 at 9:16 AM on January 28, 2003


I was a junior in high school, and it was Regents testing day in my school district in upstate NY. Since I had already passed and had no classes that day, I had gone to the mall with this female friend I secretly loved.

We were in a cab on the way to the school to work on the magazine when we heard it on the radio. We spent most of the afternoon in the teacher's lounge watching it on TV.
posted by Cerebus at 9:17 AM on January 28, 2003


4th grade. Leaving the school cafeteria. The lunch ladies were all freaking out and I didn't know why at first. I ran into my classroom and told everyone what happened. They all thought I was lying. Bastards.
posted by EmoChild at 9:17 AM on January 28, 2003


I was actually outside watching it....
Growing up in Fla, the shuttle lauches were still pretty novel, and since it was a clear day, the teachers allowed us to go outside and watch the smoke trails go up as it launched...

I remember seeing the smoke trail split, which we all knew was wrong... we had seen a few lauches by that time.. and hearing a teacher screm "Oh my god" from one of the classrooms where smoe of the students and teachers had gone to watch the Television feed....

After that.. not a whole lot. I remember that the sent us all home early, I remember feeling just... deflated.
posted by niteHawk at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2003


I was home sick from school that day, watching TV intermittently between vomiting sessions. I wasn't sure if it was part of my fever dreams or what.
posted by kmel at 9:22 AM on January 28, 2003


I was home from school with a cold, watching it live. I was on the phone with a friend, we were talking about how cool the liftoff was, and then we both went silent. When I watch launches now, I'm always a bit tense. (Linked here before: crew comments transcript here.)
posted by biscotti at 9:26 AM on January 28, 2003


gsalad, that was my experience exactly. Junior high school, first break, somebody who had watched it in their first class comes up to us in the hall and tells us. My first exposure to that kind of total surreality.
posted by jeffj at 9:26 AM on January 28, 2003


Did I mention that earlier that day a friend of mine and I was busily involved in building a time machine with tin foil?

Sorry that is off topic. That just popped back into my head. I hadn't thought about that in years. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

BTW... The machine never worked. :-(
posted by EmoChild at 9:27 AM on January 28, 2003


We had had the tv and phones off all day, as my husband worked nights.
I happened to have an obstetrics appointment that afternoon as I was pregnant with my middle kid...there was a tv in the waiting room, and everyone was watching in stunned silence...it was turned low, so I turned and asked the lady beside me what had happened.

Now, my husband had been a research subject for NASA, and it was entirely plausible that he'd been on a plane with one of these astronauts. I went home, woke him up and told him. He was really pissed off and growled, "that's nothing to joke about."

Then he turned on the TV.
posted by konolia at 9:27 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in college. I was taking halftone shots of some artwork to be pasted up in a newsletter when a fellow student came in and told us the Challenger had exploded.

I watched 9/11 happen live on my computer as I was scanning in artwork for a website.

So I was doing the same activity during both events, modified by the advances in technology.
posted by moonbiter at 9:27 AM on January 28, 2003


The only distinct memory I have is one of my (sixth grade) classmates saying that somebody should be sued by somebody. He didn't specify who would be on either end of that suit. Our teacher --not the calmest man at the best of times-- heard this and really got in touch with his shock, anger and grief using the student as his target.
I always assumed that the disaster was harder on teachers than on other civilians, but I still get a little mad when I think about how my sixth grade teacher handled that incident. We were all already freaked out as it was. I wonder how many of my classmates still can't think about the Challenger without picturing a bright red and screaming Mr. D.

Maybe it's just me.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:28 AM on January 28, 2003


The day the Challenger exploded was one of the best days of my life.

To set up the moment a bit, I just had my first professional theatrical audition for a theme park in Williamsburg, VA. I went to the Kennedy Center with a couple of friends from my high school drama class.

On January 28, 1986 I was 18 years old and home from school for one of those "teacher workdays". My household had just began enjoying the wonders of cable television and I was very excited that I could watch the launch live on the NASA channel. So I witness the explosion live on TV and I begin to freak out. Completely. I frantically call both of my parents and tell them the heartbreaking news. A few hours after the explosion, I get a telephone call. It's Busch Gardens Williamsburg and they are offering me the lead in a brand new show that is opening that summer. I'm numb. Almost speechless. I speak with the woman on the other end of the phone and it feels like I'm in a tunnel. Only after I put down the phone am I able to shout for absolute joy. Once more, I call my parents and give them the news.

That night, I'm working at an Erol's Video store and I am having real trouble wiping the goofy grin off of my face. My Manager asks me what's up with me and so I tell him. He's really happy and congratulates me. I ask him, "Do I have the right to be this happy today, of all days?" "Absolutely," he said with a wise look on his face.

Thanks for reminding me of this day. A day where so many things began and ended.
posted by tommyspoon at 9:29 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in high school, and the first I heard about it were some jokes in the cafeteria about "the teacher getting blown up by NASA" -- I hadn't seen or heard the news yet though so I just thought it was the usual joking around.

Got home, turned on the TV and was utterly stunned. I wanted to go find the kid that made that comment and make him watch that explosion over and over until he understood.
posted by Foosnark at 9:33 AM on January 28, 2003


I was at work thinking about where I was when Kennedy (the older one not the other one) was shot.
posted by mss at 9:35 AM on January 28, 2003


I just so happened at the time to be living in Titusville Fla. just across the river from Cape Canaveral, where you can feel the shuttles take off. As I had grown accustomed to them, I was just watching the television for this one. This is also due to the fact that day time launches were much less spectacular than night time launches. But I like everyone else who was watching just stared at the TV in utter horror, not believing what I had just seen.
posted by SweetIceT at 9:36 AM on January 28, 2003


I hear ya, timeistight - yikes.

I had just started a job at a small ad agency in Portland Maine - I didn't really know the other people yet. A UPS guy that was delivering a package told us about it - we all spent the rest of the day in our conference room watching the tv. We had three clients come in for meetings but no one wanted to work....it was another one of those "holy f*cking shit" days, particularly since Christina McAuliffe was rather a "local" hero, coming from a town just an hour or two away.

It wasn't under good circumstances, but I certainly got to know my colleagues and clients well that day - you have a way of dropping pretenses at times like that.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:37 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in a Catholic junior high. The principal, a nun, came on the public PA nearly crying, asking teachers in the upper grades to turn on the televisions that were mounted in the corners of each room.

35 seventh graders sat in stunned silence for nearly an hour watching it replay over and over.

There was only one other day, much later, that I felt that empty feeling while watching a disaster in tv land loop.
posted by eyeballkid at 9:39 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in junior high and I don't remember if our teacher wheeled in a t.v. before or after the launch. But we definitely watched it. All I really remember is our distraught teacher telling us, "You will all remember exactly where you were and what you were doing on this day for the rest of your life. This is your generation's JFK."
posted by snez at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2003


Working at a small grocery store in White Bear Lake, MN, on J-Term from my freshman year of college. The older cashiers (we called them "lifers," but not to their faces) had warned me that the owner's wife had been spotted in the store, and that she liked to test the cashiers--trying to use an expired coupon, or buy something for which she didn't have a coupon, etc. I was nervous. This was my first real job. She got in my line.

Right before she got to me, another customer came in: "Did you hear about the space shuttle?" No one had, and in the flurry of getting the news, the owner's wife forgot about "testing" me, if indeed that's what she had in mind. I had not even known a shuttle was going up that day.
posted by GaelFC at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2003


10th grade band class. The principal made the announcement to the entire school.

The band director hated when his rehearsals were interrupted by announcements over the intercom. On that day, the 'com beeped, and he glared at the speaker on the wall and kept playing. The principal said "May I have everyone's attention please?" followed by a long pause. The director glared harder and kept everyone playing.

The principal said "During the launch today...." and kind of lost his composure. The director realized then that this interruption was serious, and stopped the band. After another long pause the principal composed himself and reported what happened. We all sat there stunned.

The director waited about 5 minutes for everyone to reflect on the event, then picked up his conducting wand, raised his hands, and said "Let's take it from the top" and continued the rehearsal.
posted by jazon at 9:40 AM on January 28, 2003


> The only distinct memory I have is one of my (sixth grade)
> classmates saying that somebody should be sued by
> somebody.

The shuttle was (and is) an experimental craft. Astronauts understand the level of risk they're taking; but whoever decided to send a schoolteacher along for the publicity value should be dropped into the ocean from a great height.
posted by jfuller at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2003


The womb.
posted by Orange Goblin at 9:41 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in 4th grade, home sick from school. I was watching the launch as Granny was completing chores. Once the shuttle exploded, I yelled for her to come to see the mess. My Granny promptly finished folding her laundry. I saw pieces falling from the sky that I quickly identified as the crew, parachuting out to safety. I screamed to Granny that they were OK. A few moments later she came and explained to me that they were not OK and I had mistaken falling pieces of the Challenger as the crew. I was sad...
posted by bmxGirl at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2003


Aack! This thread just made me realize that I am older than the average Me-fite. I was in first year university. So old, so old...
posted by Badmichelle at 9:45 AM on January 28, 2003


I was home sick from school, watching the Price Is Right. Oddly enough, I was home sick later that year watching the Price Is Right and heard the news bulletin about Len Bias dying from a cocaine overdose.
posted by Witty at 9:45 AM on January 28, 2003


I was 24, working in a lowly advertising job at a now-defunct Minneapolis department store (Donaldsons, anyone?). When I walked by the electronics department to watch the launch, I was confronted by 50-plus images of the explosion from all those tv sets on display. It still makes me sick to my stomach seeing that picture...
posted by mooncrow at 9:46 AM on January 28, 2003


I was at home, because we had a freak "snow day" (in Georgia, that's 1 inch that will be melted by noon). I was walking down the stairs, in my robe, and saw they were showing a clip over and over on the T.V. It took me at least 15 minutes to figure out what had happened, because there was no commentary. They just kept playing the tape.

Related to the confusion as to the year, the high school I went to later had had Ronald McNair, one of the astronauts, on its board of trustees. When I was at the school, they had started a memorial garden and McNair's plaque said he died in 1988. I thought it was odd that he died 2 years after the shuttle had exploded.... a short talk with the director of the school, and the plaque was fixed.

They still have mission memorabilia in the school library, that McNair had sent.
posted by meep at 9:46 AM on January 28, 2003


Home sick at my grandmother's. It never really sunk in at age 11. Guess that's why all the jokes worked so well.

On preview:
Oh, thanks for the Len Bias reminder. Were you home sick when Bill Buckner let the ball through his legs too?
posted by yerfatma at 9:46 AM on January 28, 2003


I don't feel bad for you Badmichelle.

I was in Law School. My roommate had the T.V. on that morning - neither of us went to class until the afternoon.
posted by yhbc at 9:47 AM on January 28, 2003


whoever decided to send a schoolteacher along for the publicity value should be dropped into the ocean from a great height.

Ronald Reagan.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:50 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in third grade when the principal announced that the school day was being cut short. No one ever said why, so my friend and I rejoiced as we walked home. As soon as I got there, the babysitter my father had hired to watch us after our parents divorce was taping every piece of news off the television with our VCR - one of those top loading deals with a serial number of 1 - while crying uncontrollably.

Side note: I'm actually a big fan of NASA and have a couple of jackets on which I've sewn patches on. They look strangely official and I've been asked whether I work for them. Sometimes I say yeah, sometimes no, but it's always interesting to see people's reaction when I take credit for one of NASA's blunders like the Mars mission that confused the English and Metric systems. I have yet to take credit for the Challenger explosion, but that's just a simple matter of age which prevents it from being credible.
posted by spudworks at 9:51 AM on January 28, 2003


Possibly not just the right day for this ad. (Linked page may change at a moment's notice, of course.)
posted by jfuller at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2003


I was driving to or through (I don't remember) Blackwell, Oklahoma.
posted by CJB at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2003


By the way, here's the official NASA page on STS-51 complete with video clips and transcripts. Interesting.
posted by spudworks at 9:53 AM on January 28, 2003


I was living in a big cold house in a bad part of town in Minneapolis. What creeps me out the most about the Challenger was that not three weeks before, I had said to my roommate, "I wonder when there will be an accident with the Space Shuttle?", (during one of our many conversations about how to get stuff into space to build other stuff to make us lots of money).

At the time we had no television, and to this day, I've never seen the Challenger launch/explosion, as after the event occurred, no one ever played the video. All they ever show is the "split smoke" photo.
posted by Windopaene at 9:55 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in school, but my older sister was at home sick and was watching it. Hearing her describe it with the news coverage in the background at night was disconcerting. Viewing any retrospective on this still gives me goosebumps.
posted by fijiwriter at 9:57 AM on January 28, 2003


And in April of last year: NASA relaunches teacher-in-space program. Apparently they want to use Barbara Morgan, the original runner-up to McAuliffe.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 9:58 AM on January 28, 2003


Our school was close to a bush league ski slope, and once a week in Winter some of the kids were allowed to leave early to participate in the ski program. We were in the Ski Lodge when this girl Jenna announced to everyone that the shuttle had exploded. No one believed her, because the launch had been delayed by some trouble with O-rings earlier in the day, and that seemed like the kind of thing Jenna would be confused about. I didn't learn the truth until I got home. I was 11.
posted by Samsonov14 at 9:58 AM on January 28, 2003


Sorry yerfatma. Let me put it this way. My mother is from Maryland, I live in VA. So, I'm a Maryland fan... therefore a Len Bias fan. My father is from Indiana. So I'm an Indiana fan as well (which made last year's Tournament final pretty interesting). Being an Indiana fan makes me a Larry Bird fan... which makes me a Boston Celtic fan. Len bias going to the Celtics was a dream come true... from a fan perspective. Poor kid. So I feel your pain.
posted by Witty at 9:58 AM on January 28, 2003


The previous summer, I had gone to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL, with a couple of my friends. When the shuttle exploded, I was in a seventh-grade media class (our junior high had some rudimentary TV equipment). In the couple days after the accident, my friends and I put together a newscast about what happened, what an O-ring is, and other general facts about the space shuttle. (I wish I could find a copy of what we did) Cue to summer, 1986, and Space Camp was quite a different experience the second time around. The instructors were all a bit shell-shocked and somber, as well as very serious about the risks of space flights. Though Space Camp, itself, was rather safe and silly.
posted by msacheson at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2003


Astronauts understand the level of risk they're taking; but whoever decided to send a schoolteacher along for the publicity value should be dropped into the ocean from a great height.

jfuller, are you saying that it's impossible for a non-astronaut to understand the risks involved? It's not exactly rocket science. OK; maybe it is rocket science, but it doesn't take a genius level IQ and decades of training to realize that being strapped to tons of explosives and hurtled into space is potentially dangerous. I'm have no doubt that McAuliffe understood the risk she was taking, and she chose, as an informed, intelligent adult, to take that risk. It's not like she was kidnapped and stowed in the cargo hold.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:59 AM on January 28, 2003


We had a good thread of personal recollections a while back.
posted by jjg at 10:02 AM on January 28, 2003


And what does a teacher have to do with an entire Shuttle exploding... it wasn't like she jeopardized the mission by being there. Not only that, but what's the difference between her death and anyone else on board?
posted by Witty at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2003


I'm not one who gets particularly affected by these things but I have a good memory so I remember a few things about it anyway. It was/is my mom's birthday. I had run out to go see a friend. The friend came up and told me some jokes: "Needs Another Seven Astronauts" and "Head and Shoulders on the Beach". When I got back Mom was crying and the news was showing it blow up over and over. I remember that it didn't take long for it to get boring so I went to my room and read a book. I don't remember which one, but I was/am a big sci-fi fan so perhaps this might explain something of my underwhelmed reaction of a real spaceship blowing up. Later I marveled that jokes traveled so far, so fast. I was 13. Happy Birthday Mom.
posted by wobh at 10:06 AM on January 28, 2003


awww. crap. i was at work, less than 50 feet away from where i am right now.
[collapses into a state of total depression]
posted by quonsar at 10:07 AM on January 28, 2003


i remember, though i didn't see it live. i saw it a few minutes later. i was in high school, a freshman, and i must've been between classes at the time, because i was rounding the corner in the main hallway when i see rebecca b. coming the other way. she'd always been a smartass in my book, so when she smilingly said, "hey, you know the challenger blew up, right?" i didn't believe her.

no sooner had she said it, but i found myself passing the door to the library. or media center. whatever. and i see a growing mass of speechless student and teachers funnel-crowding into the a/v room. and then i saw it, the first of many replays of that particular piece of video.

it still breaks my heart, just a bit. i grew up with a glowing adoration of the space program, wanting to go to space camp and harboring ideas of maybe working at nasa. but i knew then that everything had changed. no longer would we have those school mornings reserved for launchpad broadcasts. no longer would people see the future when they looked at a space shuttle. and once the shuttles started returning to orbit, they did so without fanfare and now a launch is no better news than the latest celebrity gossip.

and yeah, i still want to go.
posted by grabbingsand at 10:09 AM on January 28, 2003


Reading this I'm surprised how similar my story is to so many others. I was in middle school, and I thought the person who told me was joking. It wasn't until several people told me the same thing that I even realized what was going on.
posted by dipolemoment at 10:09 AM on January 28, 2003


I was at work, delivering certificates for family portraits.

OK, I was supposed to be doing that, but I was actually sitting in my car in the parking lot of a convenience store, eating a burrito and drinking a Coke.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2003


I was a Senior in High School - walked into my Home Economics class and sat on the table while waiting for the bell to ring - noticed kids watching the TV, but didn't pay much attention at first. Then one guy (forget his name) looked at me with a weird goofy grin and said "The Shuttle blew up". I didn't get it - the grin and the message didn't match. I said "What?" and he repeated it with the same damn grin. I ignored him and finally noticed the TV, and felt, as someone else has said, deflated.

I remember not just where I was, but intimate details, the way the tile floor gave way to the worn carpeting, the claustrophobic Home Ec classroom, the checked shirt the grinning guy wore, my incomplete checkbook project I had in my desk, etc. Strange how group tragedies make such crystal clear flashbulb memories.
posted by kokogiak at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2003


Ha! Quonsar has been depressed for two solid years now.
posted by yhbc at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in Mrs. Mendelsohn's 7th grade English class writing a letter to NASA as part of a class project. The principal came over the P.A. asking all teachers to immediately report to her office. Mrs. Mendelsohn quickly returned to tell us as she turned on our classroom tv. Our projects were never completed. She understood.

Funny, I still cry a little over the Challenger explosion but I never have over Sept. 11. That day, I sat on the couch nursing my new son while fielding update calls from several friends who didn't have access to tv or radio at work.
posted by onhazier at 10:12 AM on January 28, 2003


I too, was at work. My first "real" job outta high school at a small insurance company. One of the girls in the office heard the news on the radio and relayed the information to the rest of us. We stood in shocked silence for awhile, then went back to work. I hoped it wasn't sabotage.
Later, I thought "Well the shuttle is basically a huge BOMB, what are the chances something like that would happen sooner or later?"
posted by black8 at 10:12 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in sixth grade, and we were watching it on the TV (our school had recently acquired enough TV/VCR setups, bolted onto rolling carts, for each grade level to have one stored in the "middle room" of our building). The teachers had opened the folding walls that separated each sixth grade class from the other, and we were all piled in, sitting on the floor.

It was a big, exciting deal for us, because one of the teachers from our school (my teacher the previous year) had been the finalist from our state for this program. She'd been so close to becoming the teacher in space, that we all felt very possessive of the whole program. So each of the buildings of my school was pretty much doing the same thing--a whole grade crowded around a 28" screen, thrilling.

When the shuttle launched we all cheered, and when it exploded, there was a sudden pause before the entire school burst into tears.

The next thing I knew, my sister, a second grader, came bursting into my classroom and threw herself at me, wailing. I just remember standing there, hugging her while she cried and while chaos raged around us.
posted by padraigin at 10:13 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in our junior high library listening to X Minus One and watching the launch live. There was a certain status to being a teachers aide - not, however, the librarian's. After the explosion, he typed little memos that I delivered to classrooms informing them of the disaster.
posted by rotifer at 10:14 AM on January 28, 2003


Please ignore my previous post - I got confused and thought Quonsar had made the exact same comment in the earlier (2001) thread about the anniversary. See, it would've been in character. However, I was mistaken.
posted by yhbc at 10:15 AM on January 28, 2003


It just dawned on me that I was older then than most of you are now.

Man, I hear you on that! Of course, it may explain why my comments always seem like they would be posted by my dad. I was a senior in collge at the time...which would now make me 38 years old. UGH!
posted by Durwood at 10:17 AM on January 28, 2003


"awww. crap. i was at work, less than 50 feet away from where i am right now.
[collapses into a state of total depression]"


Where were you when quonsar collapsed into a state of total depression? Why, I remember it like it was just this morning...
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:18 AM on January 28, 2003


I was at work, but I had set my VCR at home to tape the launch! So I still have the video, I wonder how degraded it is now. No more than I am, I suppose!

Uh-oh
posted by luser at 10:23 AM on January 28, 2003


All I really remember is our distraught teacher telling us, "You will all remember exactly where you were and what you were doing on this day for the rest of your life. This is your generation's JFK."

You'd think I would: I decided to be an astronaut when I was 4 and spent my entire childhood reading about space and space travel, building rockets, going to Space Camp... but I have no idea where I was or what I was doing when the Challenger exploded. I don't even know whether I heard about it the same day.

Television coverage really changes people's perception of an event like this. My wife remembers watching the explosion with vivid clarity; I've still never seen it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:25 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in school also ( sixth grade, if the quick math in my head is correct...). I believe there was some big boxing match the night before, because when I started hearing whispers of the kids around me saying "the challenger exploded" I remember being very confused because I thought they were talking about the fight. Then, like 5 minutes later, they called an assembly in the gym and we all watched the news and video if it on the TV.
posted by stifford at 10:28 AM on January 28, 2003


Whoa - the flight transcript:

T+60..............PLT..... Feel that mother go.
T+60............ Woooohoooo.
T+1:02............PLT..... Thirty-five thousand going through one point five
T+1:05............CDR..... Reading four eighty six on mine.
T+1:07............PLT..... Yep, that's what I've got, too.
T+1:10............CDR..... Roger, go at throttle up.
T+1:13............PLT..... Uhoh.
T+1:13.......................LOSS OF ALL DATA.

posted by gottabefunky at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2003


I was home sick from high school watching it live. Two things stick with me --

(1) The tv announcers just shut up, instantly. I think it was on CNN. Utter silence except for the horrifying calm statements from mission control.

(2) At some point while debris was falling, one piece had a parachute. There was this moment of hopeless hope, wishing that it were the crew but knowing that it couldn't be but wishing and hoping anyway.

Yuck.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:29 AM on January 28, 2003


In my grade school class, watching the event live. It was a big deal because there was a teacher on board. I think they called school off that day after we all realized just how bad it was.

Does anybody else think it's weird that, like, half a dozen people on this post were home sick that day? Hmmm....
posted by maniactown at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2003


man, that transcript of the flight communication sent me into a fit of back-button-clicking-existential-nausea!
I was in 7th grade on my way (late as usual) to science class. We of course watched all the news coverage, but I remember selfishly thinking I might be of creature comfort to a certain classmate i had a crush on (i know, i'm going to hell).
posted by chandy72 at 10:30 AM on January 28, 2003


I was getting ready for grade school when it happened. Mom heard it on the radio while putting on her make-up, ran in the room all excited, told us to turn on the tv where we got to see the shuttle explode over and over and over...

Funny thing is, although I loved anything space (my yearly subscription to Odyssey magazine proved it) and even if Hawaii-born Ellison Onizuka was on board, for some reason I wasn't phased much by it. I was saddened by it, but I also remember thinking, "Well, that's a rocket. Things like that happen. They're like test pilots." I couldn't understand why everyone was so messed up about it. Like a previous poster said, I'd probably be the jerk with the goofy grin telling his friends the shuttle blew up.

Then I remember when they fished the cockpit out of the ocean. There were some emergency buttons, crash switches or some doodads that were pulled, meaning at least a couple of the astronauts were alive after the explosion and rode the cockpit down. I imagined me, pushing buttons, pulling switches futilely, in zero-g, just waiting for the impact. I felt awful after that and started to understand.

As opposed to 9/11: I can't watch the WTC getting hit. I feel nauseated every time, just like the first time I saw it. And I used to be horror-movie-teen but that, I can't stand to watch those stupid planes.

Thanks for the link xmutex.
posted by Tacodog at 10:32 AM on January 28, 2003


"Does anybody else think it's weird that, like, half a dozen people on this post were home sick that day?"

They're probably all supposed to be working right now, too. Habitual slackers. Me? I am working. Yeah, that's the ticket.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:33 AM on January 28, 2003


I was standing in the play-yard of my kindergarten with all of my friends, watching it go up "live." I remember some shouts, some crying, and being hugged by a teacher (Ms. Candy, my favorite). I wonder, where are they now?
posted by alas at 10:37 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in an apartment in Ankara, Turkey when I found out. I was twelve years old. I can't remember whether I was told about it or saw it on the front page of the newspaper first, but I clearly remember that newspaper photograph.
posted by Songdog at 10:39 AM on January 28, 2003


Third grade. The principal came over the loudspeaker and told everyone what had happened. I don't think we got to go home early, but I remember that my little sister was sick and that my Mom had taken the day off from work to take care of her.

When I got home that night my Mom just gave me a big hug. I remember watching it on the news, one of the few times my Mom ever let us watch TV while eating dinner.
posted by togdon at 10:50 AM on January 28, 2003


which would now make me 38 years old. UGH!

Durwood: 38 years old is just kid stuff.

I thought I was in Florida, driving north not far from the launch, but (according to my journals) although I'd started in Florida the day before, I actually started out that morning in Gold Rock, NC. By the end of of the day, I'd driven 410 miles with my wife to her family's home in the Philadelphia suburbs.

My journals are not worthy of, say, Anais Nin. Here's the first part of my entry for 1-28-86: "Wake up early, stay in bed until 8am. Pipes frozen [in the motel], no water. Leave at 9:45am, up I-95 to Richmond, then across U.S. 360. Lunch at Lowery's Seafood Restaurant in Tappahannock. The Space Shuttle has blown up. 3-5 p.m, at the George Washington Birthplace National Monument."

On a long road trip, everything kind of merges together. But I remember the people in the restaurant being upset.

"awww. crap. i was at work, less than 50 feet away from where i am right now.

One interesting thing to me is that today, 17 years later, I woke up (now in Down East Maine) and the pipes were frozen again. (It was minus five F. outside.)

We just keep going in circles, quonsar.
posted by LeLiLo at 10:55 AM on January 28, 2003


I was at home, because we had a freak "snow day" (in Georgia, that's 1 inch that will be melted by noon).

This is not a coincidence, of course, as the accident was caused by the exceptionally cold weather.

Does anybody else think it's weird that, like, half a dozen people on this post were home sick that day? Hmmm....

Maybe some more of these were actually snow days as well...
posted by jeffj at 11:00 AM on January 28, 2003


10th grade math class -- the principal announced it over the PA system. One of two times in my K-12 career that I remember such an announcement. The other was October 6, 1981 -- the day Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

Does anybody else think it's weird that, like, half a dozen people on this post were home sick that day? Hmmm....

Ah, January 28. The acme of cold and flu season.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:00 AM on January 28, 2003


yhbc: Quonsar has been depressed for two solid years now.
mr. crash davis: Where were you when quonsar collapsed into a state of total depression? Why, I remember it like it was just this morning...

you people are pushing me dangerously close to total o-ring failure.
posted by quonsar at 11:01 AM on January 28, 2003


T+1:13............PLT..... Uhoh.

The last words spoken were Uhoh?
I can never watch Teletubbies again.

*sobs*
posted by ginz at 11:02 AM on January 28, 2003


I was at work, in Williamsburg, VA, rendering perspectives of horrible little houses which were destined to be included in a plan book. I remember the walls of that office were gray. Really gray.
posted by Dick Paris at 11:04 AM on January 28, 2003


I was saddened by it, but I also remember thinking, "Well, that's a rocket. Things like that happen. They're like test pilots." I couldn't understand why everyone was so messed up about it.

I had the same reaction. It was sad, but I figured these things were just going to happen every now and then. It's a big, dangerous, push-the-frontiers sort of activity, and it certainly wasn't the first time people had died trying it.

It was years, actually, before I realized the rest of the country had just given up on the space program after the Challenger exploded; I would probably still feel a little bit betrayed, if I bothered to think about it.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:05 AM on January 28, 2003


I was sitting in front of a TV with the rest of my class in second grade watching the whole thing live. We had started watching something like five minutes before the launch, and I don't think I ever looked away from the screen once during the countdown. (This being in Houston, no one in the class was disinterested in anything space related.)

I still remember to this day seeing the little flash of fire and smoke appear from the booster rockets a split second before the whole thing exploded. By the time my brain had registered what it was, it was all over. My school didn't have real walls between classrooms, just those foldable partitions. You could hear the silence across the whole building.

Several months later, the mother of one of my fellow classmates, who worked at NASA, came in to talk to us. I can still remember how she tried to convince the class how it was all an accident...a completely unavoidable circumstance she said. It wasn't until years later that I saw a documentary about the bad decisions that lead up to the launch that I realized how completely wrong she was.

As I'm sure it was for others, the day of the explosion was the day I lost all interest in being an astronaut.
posted by thewittyname at 11:06 AM on January 28, 2003


T-25............PLT..... Remember the red button when you make a roll call.

So those jokes about the little red button that circulated after the crash weren't too far off. (McAuliffe: What does this little red button do?)
posted by eyeballkid at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2003


I went home for lunch from school (grade 3 or so) and got the news when I got back to class. My classmates watched it live, I didn't.

I was in a college class when the OJ verdict came out. Isn't that supposed to be another "where were you when" moments?
posted by adampsyche at 11:07 AM on January 28, 2003


Astronauts understand the level of risk they're taking; but whoever decided to send a schoolteacher along for the publicity value should be dropped into the ocean from a great height.

I'm sure she understood the risk. It's not like they held a raffle that morning and just handed her a flight suit, she went through a LOT of training beforehand.
posted by biscotti at 11:14 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in a college class when the OJ verdict came out. Isn't that supposed to be another "where were you when" moments?

It's sad that it is, but yeah. There were a lot of kids at school that wanted to watch it on TV, but the teachers insisted that it was not that important. During lunch, Brian came running through the cafeteria, screaming, "Not guilty! Oh yeah!" I remember being shocked that this kid was happy about the verdict, because I was so sure he was guilty.

As for the Challenger, no one told me. I was 26 months old.
posted by katieinshoes at 11:29 AM on January 28, 2003


I don't remember where I was when I saw the explosion, because it was one of the first events that I remember that was shown so many times on TV that I can't distinguish the first time from all the others. I was 22, in college, and (shoutout to tommyspoon) possibly working at an Erols Video store.

I do remember it causing one of the first widespread misuses of the word "heroes," in this case to refer to the victims of the crash. Their deaths were tragic, but they were caused when something went horribly wrong on the space bus. To me, heroism means knowingly risking your life, usually to save someone else's. The Challenger astronauts died doing something that had become so routine it wa taken for granted. The people who got on the next shuttle launch were closer to being heroes.

In his book Visual Explanations, Edward Tufte makes a convincing argument that the Morton Thiokol engineers, who recommended against the launch because of the cold weather, had the evidence to show that launching at that temperature was risky, but didn't visually present the information clearly. Tufte's visual redesign of the information shows a clear correlation between cold temperatures and O-ring problems, and that the launch temperatures expected for the morning of the launch were so much lower than the lowest previous launch temperatures that the launch would be too risky.

NASA excerpt from Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident describing why and how the shuttle exploded.
posted by kirkaracha at 11:29 AM on January 28, 2003


Personally...my junior year in high school. I don't remember what particular class I was in when the principal announced what happened, but like most other people I do remember there was a lot of stunned silence.

Later that day I went to the library where they had a TV set up, and actually watched it. And you know, like Mars said, I was stunned by this, but not really surprised. I mean, those of us really interested in the space program know that these tragedies will occur -- I can imagine that the reaction to the death of the Apollo 1 astronauts was almost as stunning as well.
posted by PeteyStock at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2003


konse , be positive , fifty yards is progress , progress.
posted by sgt.serenity at 11:32 AM on January 28, 2003


I was driving down Touhy Ave. on my way to a consulting gig in Skokie. I remember watching the replays on the television when I got home at the end of the day.

Oh yes, and apparently MUCH older than most of you.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:36 AM on January 28, 2003


I was home, but not sick. Our teachers had an in-service day, so no school for the middle school (I was in 6th grade). I was in my room, lying face down on my bed, my head and feet hanging over the side. I was listening to the radio--I even remember the station, Z104. They interrupted whatever song was playing to make the announcement. I ran downstairs to tell my mom what had happened, and she didn't believe me. Then we turned on the television and watched it happen over and over and over again.

I felt pretty deflated, too. That was the day that I realized that non-astronaut people, regular people, weren't going to go into space regularly any time soon.
posted by eilatan at 11:37 AM on January 28, 2003


I was doing my first all-nighter as a freshman at the University of Chicago, writing a term paper on the Nichomachean Ethics. I didn't wake up until 2pm that afternoon.

When I head that "the shuttle blew up", my thoughts immediately turned to the Shoreland Shuttle, the jitney that took us from our dorm on the lake to campus, rather than the Challenger.

Dear Diary, boy was my face red when I asked "the Shoreland Shuttle blew up??
posted by psmealey at 11:38 AM on January 28, 2003


Hell! I didn't know Metafilter had GTNY threads!

So where were you?

Can't remember, I was 17 years old... probably stoned. I am sure I was affected, as I am very interested in space.
posted by samelborp at 11:40 AM on January 28, 2003


Interesting, this came up in one of those 'where were you when...' things. If I look up my reply then, it was... "3. When the Challenger exploded (January 28, 1986) -- I was in class. Some students had been in the library to watch the launch live, but I was not one of them. I think they made an announcement over the intercoms."

I don't recall being much shaken by it, really. I felt sad for the lives lost, but it wasn't the trauma it was for many of my age-mates.
posted by Karmakaze at 11:42 AM on January 28, 2003


Anyone know anything more about the audio from the crew compartment? Apparently they have recordings of the crew as they died, but they won't be released for another 50 years or so, so as not to freak us or the crew's families out. The tapes also apparently continue running for quite some time as the crew compartment actually came apart on impact with the water rather than from the explosion. I hope somebody knows more about this and can please tell me I'm full of crap!
posted by Pollomacho at 11:45 AM on January 28, 2003


For some reason, I have a memory of being home for lunch and watching the Challenger explosion over and over again on TV. But I was 15 at the time and I wouldn't have gone home for lunch (too far from high school). I think I'm mixing up my "TV moments" and confusing the assassination attempt on Reagan (which I would have been young enough to be home for lunch) with the Challenger explosion.

I guess I don't really remember any details. I must have been in high school, but I don't remember anything about watching it on TV or announcements or teachers getting upset. I just remember watching the scene over and over again at home, so that must have been after school and hours later.

Well, that's really frustrating. I'll have to make something up to tell my (future) kids when they ask me. I'm going to re-read the ones above and steal one of them. I hope you guys don't mind. :)
posted by grum@work at 11:46 AM on January 28, 2003


psmealey, you're not alone. I was covering a small Boston suburb then; I was crossing the street when I ran into the town administrator, he asked me what was up and I told him the shuttle had just blown up; he thought I meant one of the small buses that passed for public transportation in the town.

Then I had to go over to Framingham State College to cover the reaction there; the story was particularly big news in Framingham because Christa McAuliffe had grown up there (and gone to Framingham State) and her parents still lived there (in fact, one of our Framingham reporters was down in Florida watching the launch with her parents; in retrospect, boy am I glad that's not something I was assigned to).
posted by agaffin at 11:47 AM on January 28, 2003


I was in college, incredibly hung over that morning. It was unseasonably cold, just like today. I remember getting up late and being annoyed that I couldn't find music on any radio station. Just news. But the content of the news didn't penetrate my fogged brain until I'd taken a shower. Then I ran to a friend's room and told him to turn on the tv. "The Space Shuttle's exploded," I said. He thought I was joking. We watched for another hour or so then; and later that evening most of my dorm watched it all again together. I remember having arguments that evening over whether or not the coverage constituted "disaster porn." (Though looking back, the coverage seems pretty restrained, in memory.)
posted by octobersurprise at 11:59 AM on January 28, 2003


My first where-were-you memory is standing at the top of the stairs to the attic when my brother told me about Sputnik 1. Patriotic little first grader that I was, I was so disappointed.

Gah, the excitement of seeing satellites in the next few weeks was something else...
posted by y2karl at 12:00 PM on January 28, 2003


I was at work, at a power plant in New Hampshire. The whole state was buzzing that Ms. McAuliffe was a local girl made the bigtime. The foreman came and told us about the explosion. We went to a nearby bar, watched it over and over again, and openly wept.
posted by scottymac at 12:02 PM on January 28, 2003


At the university on a bitter cold morning delivering the weekly student magazine (which I edited as well). Heard the news on the car radio, thought for a second and pulled over. Tore open a bundle, grabbed a copy, went flipping, flipping flipping --

-- to the page where a darkly humorous (we thought) predictions feature foretold the explosion of the space shuttle, resulting in the death of seven astronauts.

The article said it would collide with a Japanese TV satellite, among other unrelated predictions of world events and catastrophes. I learned that predicting death and disaster was not funny. I cannot remember today why the writer, other editors and I found it amusing.

The issue we followed it with was full of passion, poetry and a pitched debate over the future of manned spaceflight. And a boldface apology/explanation that prominently mentioned that the magazine had been printed the previous evening.
posted by sacre_bleu at 12:12 PM on January 28, 2003


Chemistry class, junior year in high school. The labs were set up for us to do some sort of experiment that period and my friend and I had just spent a good five minutes pestering our teacher to find out if it was going to be anything good "with nice big explosions and stuff." About 3 minutes later, an announcement was made over the PA. (We felt guilty for ages after that.)

I don't think the complete idea of what happened sunk in until I got home, though. It was the first time I remember being fascinated with news coverage, though. Couldn't stop watching.
posted by aine42 at 12:13 PM on January 28, 2003


"Apparently they have recordings of the crew as they died...I hope somebody knows more about this and can please tell me I'm full of crap!"

Pollomacho, I'm happy (sorry?) to tell you you're full of crap.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:31 PM on January 28, 2003


Glad to hear it, althou this guy has a similar story!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2003


And what does a teacher have to do with an entire Shuttle exploding... it wasn't like she jeopardized the mission by being there. Not only that, but what's the difference between her death and anyone else on board?

Witty: The real significance was that she was going to be the first civilian in space. Although since then there have been many civilians who have gone up as payload specialists (as opposed to mission specialists, who are in general former military pilots), before McAuliffe there hadn't been any.

Basically, what was going to be the first civilian in space became the first civilian casualty of the space program.
posted by antimony at 12:36 PM on January 28, 2003


The NASA official transcript only gives "Uh Oh" as the last message, sad really. Did the "uh oh" mean "oh god I'm going to die" or "gee that gauge looks a little off?" I hope it was the latter and that all 7 died VERY quickly! Thanks crash for the debunking!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:42 PM on January 28, 2003


I was in fourth grade at the time. I don't think I was watching the footage live; I'm pretty sure I was watching it on the news later that night, but it still came as a shock.

The next day our teacher gave us a stern lecture, received in complete silence by the entire class, about the inappropriateness of "Need Another Seven Astronaut" jokes and their ilk.

9/11 was much, much worse for me... probably because Challenger was so far away, while New York is home.

I still want to go up... and am disappointed we're not exploring more of space yet.
posted by Soliloquy at 12:44 PM on January 28, 2003


no one knew what to say...to your question.

Possibly the best clue towards solving the mystery of how long the doomed crew survived lies in what NASA learned from examining the four emergency air packs recovered from the wreckage. Three had been manually activated, which demonstated that at least some of the crew realized something had gone wrong and had taken steps to save themselves. However, the fourth unactivated pack speaks with an even stronger voice, indicating that most likely realization of the circumstances and loss of consciousness were occurring at roughly the same time.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:48 PM on January 28, 2003


I'm sure she understood the risk. It's not like they held a raffle that morning and just handed her a flight suit, she went through a LOT of training beforehand.

I imagine she understood that there was *foo* chance of death.

But only because she'd been told that the odds of death were *foo*. She couldn't sit down and look at the situation and understand what the risks were that day like a really trained astronaut could have. She didn't have the experience necessary to come up with her own good, solid evaluation of the risk, nor could she verify the risk-assessment she was told.

So she didn't know the risk in that sense.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:51 PM on January 28, 2003


7th grade, I think it was second period, definitely social studies. The photography guy in the school came in and whispered into our teachers ear, and her face went absolutely white. I definitely remember the entire school being eerily quiet. Library had set up a tv to replay the thing for students.

As a side note, at the time my dad taught at the air force academy. I'm almost positive we'd had the son of one of the people on the shuttle over to our house several times before (the guys son was a cadet at the academy). (Cadets are frequently hosted by officers at the academy for things like Thanksgiving since they often can't go home for the holidays). So for me it always kinda stuck with me because of how close it hit.
posted by piper28 at 12:57 PM on January 28, 2003


I was at work, someone had gotten word and set up a TV in a open area in the System's Test floor and we alll watched fuzzy images of the flight, over and over.

I was born in the year of Sputnik and grew up with the US space program. I still have a set of high quality photo prints from film taken on the Moon by the Apollo 11 astronauts. But this disaster, moreso than Apollo 1 and 13, made it clear to me that NASA was far from infallible. All you had to do was watch Feynman's o-ring demonstration to know something was wrong at the agency.
posted by tommasz at 1:05 PM on January 28, 2003


any one else remember the glimmer of hope from an object coming down on a parachute?

What was that thing, a generator, or computer system or something wasn't it?
posted by twine42 at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2003


I was in seventh grade, and like many home from school on a snow day. I remember being stunned by the news, but then eventually annoyed by the seemingly never ending coverage.

Like some one else above, my science teacher made it pretty far in the teacher in space selection process. For about two weeks, we just worked on dittos (dittos!) in class while our teacher sat at the front and stared at his desk.

I think I was more affected by the knowledge that some of the astronauts might have been alive for part or all of the descent than I was by the actual explosion.
posted by jennyb at 1:15 PM on January 28, 2003


9/11 was much, much worse for me

Not to split hairs, but 9/11 was "much, much worse" for the entire world (save those directly involved in the shuttle explosion). The shuttle explosion didn't kill thousands, cripple the economy, or plunge the nation into a war. 9/11 did all of these things.

This is an interesting thread -- both to read everyone's responses and also to get an idea of people's ages -- I would have pegged some of you as much younger (crash, madamjujujive are two that spring to mind) than your answers are revealing.

For the record, I was in high school art class, goofing around with the cool new "Apple Computer" the school had just bought. So, basically, I was dicking around at the computer when I should have been doing something else. Pretty much like I'm doing right now. Sigh.
posted by boomchicka at 1:17 PM on January 28, 2003


i was in the 5th grade. i guess someone had come in and told my teacher what happened, because all of a sudden he turns his little transistor radio on so we can listen to what was going on. i really don't remember what was said. i guess not being able to see what was going on lessened the impact for me.

we were eventually herded into the gym/cafeteria where they had a tv set up. for some reason i think they only had the older kids there (5th and 4th graders). so we watched the replays until someone came to pick us up.

when i came home i watched the news all night. the one visual that sticks in my mind was how beat down peter jennings looked and sounded. (i'm pretty sure it was him anyway. i always got him and tom brokaw confused as a little kid.).
posted by goddam at 1:33 PM on January 28, 2003


Like a lot of people I was sitting in class and saw it. Freaked everybody out. Then I remembered my mom (a school teacher) had brought home a candidate packet a while before that and decided it wasn't something she was interested in. I'm sure glad it wasn't something she wanted to peruse.
posted by klaruz at 1:42 PM on January 28, 2003


In Florida, watching the launch. It still get goosebumps and teary remembering the moment we all knew that it had gone horribly, horribly wrong.
posted by dejah420 at 1:43 PM on January 28, 2003


The shuttle explosion didn't kill thousands, cripple the economy, or plunge the nation into a war. 9/11 did all of these things.
um. no. 9/11 did the first of those things. the president did the rest.
posted by quonsar at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2003


I was six years old, on the playground during recess- about 100 miles from the Cape. I saw it. I heard it. I felt it physically, as I often due when shuttles re-enter and break the sound barrier.

Probably one of the more impacting moments of my entire life, especially due to my nerdy interest in space travel.

All this for a #$!@# rubber seal. And how they figured out it was the seal was by accident. an engineer dropped one in his drink and realized how hard and brittle it was afterwards.

If anything, NASA's track record for manned launches is incredible. As much money as we throw at space travel, and even for NASA doing their whole cheaper, faster, better deal - it's still hard to believe we've done it with such success.

The crew of the Challenger will never be forgotten, at least not by us here in south Florida.
posted by shadow45 at 1:52 PM on January 28, 2003


In my freshman college dorm room, actually in the room across the hall which was inexplicably covered floor to ceiling in cork. I was stunned, disoriented, and late for class--in fact I was late to the wrong class.

Thanks kirkaracha for the Tufte link--those are great books and I always flip to the Challenger section when I get on a jag with someone about information design.

See also Richard Feynman's answer to the question "What are the cause of management's fantastic faith in the machinery?"
posted by donovan at 1:53 PM on January 28, 2003


I was at home waiting to waiting for 'Blue Peter' or 'Grange Hill' when they were pre-empted for the coverage. It was another of the moments which took away my belief in a sentient god. At the age of Eleven. Hasn't really gone well between us since then.

The following day I went into school and had to endure the 'jokes' of my classmates. When I wasn't laughing I realised I wasn't anything like them.
posted by feelinglistless at 1:56 PM on January 28, 2003


I should point out that the main BBC coverage for half an hour was in the context of the children's current affairs show 'John Craven's Newround'.
posted by feelinglistless at 1:59 PM on January 28, 2003


The shuttle explosion didn't kill thousands, cripple the economy, or plunge the nation into a war. 9/11 did all of these things.

um. no. 9/11 did the first of those things. the president did the rest.


Touché. You're absolutely right.
posted by boomchicka at 2:21 PM on January 28, 2003


I was in the 9th grade. It happened during my Washington State History class. We were all in the library when our teacher came in and announced in a shaky voice what had happened. If I remember correctly we were sent home early that day, but I could be wrong. I cried all afternoon when I got home. To this day I can't explain exactly why this particular incident upset me so. I mean, people die in accidents, plane crashes, etc. every day. The only other times a public tragedy affected me like this were the sinking of the Kursk, 9/11, and when Jim Henson died (I mean, come on! He was Kermit the Frog! Babysitter to my generation!) There was something about watching people joyfully embark on a great, brave adventure and having it all go so horribly wrong right in front of your eyes...
posted by evilcupcakes at 2:22 PM on January 28, 2003


an engineer dropped one in his drink and realized how hard and brittle it was afterwards

You're probably thinking of Richard Feynman's demonstration during the presidental commission hearings.

Here's NASA's recap of the mission.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:43 PM on January 28, 2003


I was coming back for lunch when I heard the news. I was halfway through my 'get money for College(that will surely get used for beer and records)' tour with Bravo Company, 501st Signal Btn, 101st Airborne, Ft. Campbell, KY. Stunned, we all watched the TV until the images were burned into our skulls.

Jump forward a few years, and one of the things that bonded me to my dear friend Scott was a mutual admiration for Feynman's testimony.

I recall someone in my unit thinking it was the Russians who caused this. You know, Cold War and all.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 2:58 PM on January 28, 2003


> I'm sure she understood the risk. It's not like they held a
> raffle that morning and just handed her a flight suit, she
> went through a LOT of training beforehand.

Every bit of that training was for a successful flight. You figure they put her through a lot of simulations that ended in destruction of the craft and death of the crew? People who have had long careers in leading-edge aviation have already been involved in air emergencies, have participated in investigations of crashes, have known friends who died, have known the left-behind spouses and children of flyers who were killed; many have survived crashes themselves. You can't give anyone that kind of personal knowledge of risk with a just few months of training. People with that kind of personal knowledge of the risk are the ones who belong on experimental craft. (That and boy-band members, of course. You can shoot up as many boy-band members as you like.)
posted by jfuller at 3:09 PM on January 28, 2003


any one else remember the glimmer of hope from an object coming down on a parachute?

/me raises his hand

Not hope exactly -- I knew that it couldn't be the crew area. But part of me just didn't care; dammit, that was a parachute.

What was that thing, a generator, or computer system or something wasn't it?

An extractor-chute for a main SRB chute, or something like that IIRC.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:14 PM on January 28, 2003


It just dawned on me that I was older then than most of you are now.
I am glad there are others who thought this. I was at work. I don't remember what I was doing and I don't think it really hit me that the explosion would have such an effect on the world. Compared to, for example, an airliner crashing, a shuttle with only 7 on board seemed pretty insignificant at the time. It just shows that it is not the size of the disaster that determines what place it holds in our collective memory, but how much of an emotional attachment we have to the event. Space exploration has always been the stuff that dreams are made of and our dreams were all shattered on that day.

Now, how many of you can remember where you were when Man first set foot on the moon? I can.
posted by dg at 3:26 PM on January 28, 2003


And how they figured out it was the seal was by accident. an engineer dropped one in his drink and realized how hard and brittle it was afterwards.

Feynman dunked the O-ring sample into ice water on purpose to see how it would behave at low temperatures within millisecond time intervals. Not very well, as it turned out--it didn't expand fast enough to maintain the seals on the SRB.

I was too young to remember the explosion, but I do recall watching the 1988 launch that restarted the shuttle program.
posted by casarkos at 3:27 PM on January 28, 2003


People with that kind of personal knowledge of the risk are the ones who belong on experimental craft.

I don't necessarily disagree with this, but I doubt that she was misled about the risk.
posted by biscotti at 3:29 PM on January 28, 2003


"Now, how many of you can remember where you were when Man first set foot on the moon?"

Those of you who, like me, are old enough to answer that question can submit your story to this site, if you can still remember where you left your mouse.

BTW, I was sitting on our couch, watching it on TV with my mother.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:40 PM on January 28, 2003


antimony: I understand what the significance of her inclusion was all about. But whoever it was earlier that made the comment about how stupid it was to put a teacher in the shuttle just made no sense to me... as if her presence somehow caused the accident and her resulting death was more tragic than the astronauts.
posted by Witty at 5:05 PM on January 28, 2003


People who have had long careers in leading-edge aviation have already been involved in air emergencies, have participated in investigations of crashes, have known friends who died, have known the left-behind spouses and children of flyers who were killed; many have survived crashes themselves. You can't give anyone that kind of personal knowledge of risk with a just few months of training. People with that kind of personal knowledge of the risk are the ones who belong on experimental craft.

That's absurd. Should we require that people have friends die in car crashes and participate in automotive accident investigations before they're allowed to get driver's licenses? After all, driving is dangerous. The first astronauts were certainly selected from among pilots of experimental aircraft. By the eighties, however, many people entering astronaut training were coming from nonmilitary backgrounds; mission specialists in particular were (and continue to be) selected for their scientific background rather than any aviation training. It's typical for an astronaut candidate to have no exposure whatsoever to the world of experimental aviation prior to joining NASA. And NASA hasn't had a fatal accident in over 15 years, so few (if any) current astronauts have the tragic personal experiences you argue should be prerequisites for space travel. The exception, of course, is for shuttle pilots, who are drawn from the ranks of experimental aviators.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:01 PM on January 28, 2003


... long careers in leading-edge aviation ...
Isn't that an oxymoron?
posted by dg at 7:22 PM on January 28, 2003


Joining the old folks parade: I was working at a newspaper in the midwest. Every TV in the building was tuned to the lift-off. However, very few of us were actually watching. I had never missed a public lift-off since Apollo.
I was telling a co-worker how I remembered when it was a big deal when there was a lift-off and how blase everyone was now.

Thirty minutes later everyone is in shock while some watch over and over and others are working the phones looking for "the local angle."

Endings and beginnings: Later that day the doctor called to say the rabbit had died. Remember the days before HPT?
posted by ?! at 7:26 PM on January 28, 2003


I was in the dentist's chair, having a cavity drilled. One of the hygienists came in and told us that the shuttle exploded. We all kind of went "Whoa!" and then the dentist got back to drilling...
posted by beth at 7:52 PM on January 28, 2003


all about it
I think I was involved in a collaborative, procreative bodily function. When I finally noticed 'it'.....'it' was awfull at the time. I felt really bad.

The "it" of 9-11 was far worse....

And I expect that I will live to see far worse than those its.

But even the 9-11 "it" didn't make me scream in pain the way my dentist did last month when he hit a root nerve with the Novacaine needle.

Still, I expect that this would have been different if I had seen my husband or wife plunging from the 86th floor.
posted by troutfishing at 8:48 PM on January 28, 2003


But that is a lie. In fact, I was an endangered sea turtle near Cape Canaveral, and I watched as the Challenger debris rained down on and destroyed my recently fertilized clutch of newly buried eggs...

In my grief, I swam into the sea and did not look back. And never, never again in that form - my bittersweet mortal coil tied to this mortal realm - did I return.
posted by troutfishing at 8:59 PM on January 28, 2003


I was in 5th grade.

The building I was in housed 5 through 7 grades. The whole school gathered in that fifth grade classroom and watched the coverage together.

One of our teachers had gone pretty far in the running for being the teacher on the shuttle and we had all followed it very closely. I can still remember sitting there in shock, while we watched the images over and over again.
posted by SuzySmith at 9:12 PM on January 28, 2003


I was a freshman in college in Boston. I remember walking into the lobby of my dorm about 5 seconds after it happened and seeing the crowd in shock around the TV.

I had a very different freak-out reaction. I immediately thought it must be terrorism, Libya in particular. My parents and brother were living in Rome, and Ghadafi had said that he would hit Italy if attacked. I panicked, thinking the U.S. would have to hit Libya, and Libya would then strike Italy and my family would die.

Plus ca change.....
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:22 PM on January 28, 2003


I was 23. I was at home in bed relaxing before getting up and going in to work at Kmart (this was a few weeks before my first "real" job in my chosen career). I did go into work as scheduled, but everything seemed pointless.

I honestly can't recall if I saw it live or not, which seems odd. But I know that memories play tricks. (A lot of people "remember" watching the first plane hit the WTC on TV, even though that footage didn't appear on that day.)

T+1:10............CDR..... Roger, go at throttle up.
To this day, I feel my body instinctively clench when I hear this command issued to a shuttle during launch. I suspect it's the same for many other people.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:21 PM on January 28, 2003


Playing the BBC audio clip reminded me of the other memorable comment, from someone at NASA, in that calm, matter-of-fact tone:

"Flight controllers here looking at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction."

What seemed like a truly ghastly understatement made more sense when I learned that he couldn't actually see what had happened -- all he knew was that they were no longer receiving data.
posted by pmurray63 at 10:33 PM on January 28, 2003


Well, I've told my story here before, so check the old thread for that. I was, like some others, older than the norm in this thread. Also, the preponderance of sickies is probably simply a correlation with the likelihood of being able to watch the launch if you were home sick.

twine: The thing coming down with a parachute would have been the remains of one solid rocket booster, most likely the right one. They have parachutes in the nose cones, because they are normally recovered after a launch and rebuilt. In this case, even discounting the fact that one of the boosters had developed a gaping nozzle in the sidewall, without the shuttle assembly attached the rockets would essentially be uncontrollable, so they were destroyed by the Range Safety Officer.

There were no other items, so far as I know, with parachutes. After Challenger, a chute was added to the tail section to assist braking on landing, which is partly why the shuttles can land back at KSC routinely rather than at Edwards AFB. Even today, however, a Challenger accident would not be survivable. In the event that an orbiter could be safely separated from the "stack" (boosters and external tank) and regain level flight (odds are against it, and if they could they would make for Spain or Morocco regardless), there is a parachute evacuation system.

As for astronauts, only a few, and generally those are the pilots and commanders, have avionics backgrounds (and precious few, these days, from experimental aviation). The rest are academic standout scientists and engineers, whose jobs are in fact rather dull and ordinary (tending experiments, attaching certain things to other things) except for the fact that they are done in microgravity. I don't see what makes a teacher exceptional in that regard, and to this day I believe that the idea of putting a teacher in space -- the purpose being deeper than mere publicity, but to bolster interest in science and engineering education -- is a valuable task. In general the astronaut corps and wide swathes of NASA actually disagree, but then they are part of a system which holds out spaceflight as a career plum; perhaps they aren't the people to ask. They work for us too, you know.

In the end, if we are to advance, we will need to risk; and it was not that many generations ago that many people took enormously greater risks as part of everyday life. Even today, ordinary people work as miners, or trainmen, or steelworkers, and get crushed, sliced, and dropped routinely. As for the question of knowing the risks, there is widespread agreement that the astronauts, and many of NASA's own engineers, did not themselves fully understand the risks of trusting their lives to complex systems; to this day, this is a case study in institutional error. All we can hope is to learn.
posted by dhartung at 10:35 PM on January 28, 2003


I was driving up to Boston to begin the second half of my freshman semester at college. We heard the news on the radio, and there was silence in the car for a long while after that.
posted by gspira at 1:13 AM on January 29, 2003


It was damn cold, as I remember, because I tried a nifty skid on an icy on-ramp and nearly flipped my proto-SUV with several passengers in it.

A passing state trooper told us what happened.
posted by hama7 at 3:26 AM on January 29, 2003


Thanks for that link, Crash. I'm still wiping the tears from my eyes after reading some of the "war" collection. For the record, I think I was on the living room floor but it is so hard to say. The moon landings tend to blur together for me, having seen some Apollo activity at school, some at home. Strangely, I just remembered where I was (in a high school band room, watching drum and bugle crops tapes) when the US beat the Soviets in 1980 to advance to the hockey finals.
posted by Dick Paris at 3:27 AM on January 29, 2003


> Isn't that an oxymoron?

You mean as in "There are old pilots, and bold pilots, but no old bold pilots"? :)
posted by jfuller at 6:16 AM on January 29, 2003


I was in grade five, and I remember thinking that a plane had crashed a week before, killing dozens of people, but nobody talked about that for more than a day or two. And then this spaceship blew up and everyone acted like it was the greatest tragedy known to man. Seven people died. Big fucking deal.
posted by Polo Mr. Polo at 11:23 AM on January 29, 2003


Exactly, jfuller.
posted by dg at 1:42 PM on January 29, 2003


"Does anybody else think it's weird that, like, half a dozen people on this post were home sick that day?"

Add me to the list of sickies. I can't remember if I was ditching classes that day (college) or not, but I do know that I had a cold that had me congested and hoarse. The minute that I realized what had happened, I picked up the phone and called my mother - daytime long distances rates be damned. I remember that between my cold and my crying, she couldn't understand me on the phone and I had to actually identify myself by name to her.
posted by Dreama at 2:27 PM on January 29, 2003


Now, how many of you can remember where you were when Man first set foot on the moon?

Missed it by two days, dg. (Not that I would have been watching the TV at that point if I hadn't.)
posted by aine42 at 4:17 PM on January 29, 2003


« Older The First State of the Union Address...  |  CSS on Demand... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments