Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?

It was a cold January morning, and we had a snow day. Shuttle launches had been going on for 5 years, and were really routine. I don't even remember if this was on TV anyway.

I was out shoveling the driveway, and when I came back in, Mom tells me, "Something happened to the space shuttle." Now, of course, it's on TV, and so I sit down in front of it, and they replay the tape, the flash of light, the solid rocket boosters shooting off in different directions. You didn't need to be an aeronautical engineer to know that there was little chance the astronauts were alive. I remember saying that to my Mom as we were watching in somber, stunned horror.

Mission control first refered to the explosion as a "major malfunction." In those first few minutes, you knew this was going to be a major historical event.

I was a coop student, on work term. I was in a pub in the Royal Bank plaza, having an early lunch with a friend from university. I was facing the big rear projection TV which had the launch on - picture, but no sound. I looked up from my sandwich to see that strange exhaust cloud that looked like some kind of devil's pitchfork. Without sound it wasn't clear what had happened, until they cut to a very gim faced announcer. Even with no sound, that's when I knew for sure.

I got back to work at the bank, to tell the full-timers what had happened. But while I was out, one of the guys got a phone call that his wife, home sick in their native Phillipines, had died of cancer. So I mentioned my "big news" in passing, but it didn't seem so earth-shaking after all in the face of a much closer personal tragedy.

But seeing a replay or a still of that cloud still twists my guts.

Formerly at:
Where were you when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded?

I don't know where author Dan Simmons was, but his short story "Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds" deals with the Challenger explosion in a cathartic way. the story appeared in OMNI and is included in his collection Prayers to Broken Stones.

I was in the chemistry department of Aberdeen University in Scotland. I was inside a 19-inch cabinet trying to wire up a controller for a stepper motor for a diffraction grating monochrometer and listening to BBC Radio 1 (I was a young and foolish postgrad student).

The record that was playing finished and there was a short period of dead air. Then the DJ (I can't remember which one) came on and said words to the effect of:

"Excuse me, we were just watching the shuttle launch on TV and it's blown up. I'm sorry we're a little bit rattled. Here's another record."

This was probably the first general announcement of the crash in the UK. Radio 4 (to which I switched very quickly) did not have any information for over another half hour.

I was coming out of preschool. Everyone heard a loud BOOM, assuming it was a sonic boom, nobody thought much, until we realized that there was no shuttle coming home that day, but one going up. We all looked up to see a big flaming mass of not a lot in the sky, with stuff going in all directions. I was so little not a lot went through my head, i just knew some astronauts died. Thats when i knew i didn't want to be one. My mom was a wreck.

Those of you who lived in florida then know what i'm talking about.
This is a question that some people (when I used to read alt.society.generation-x) used as a marker for belonging to Generation X; if you were too young to remember the explosion, then you were a Millenial. It was an equivalent to the Baby Boomers' "Where were you when you heard John F. Kennedy had been assassinated?"

Me, I was home sick from seventh grade, watching MTV in my bedroom; my mom came in from the living room to tell me what had been announced on the station she was watching. I remember MTV stopped using their "moon landing" station identification for a while, feeling that any reference to astronauts was inappropriate at the time.

I was in a department store, I think a Sears, with my parents. There was a wall of televisions, and they were all tuned to the same station. The image of the cloud was displayed over and over, and I didn't understand why people were crying.

I was six.

Where was I when the Challenger exploded?

I was in class, and i dont remember which grade.. probably sixth. We all got together for a new advancement in learning, because a teacher was going up into space. It was a really cool idea that was hailed in the press for a while.

The funny thing is, that was the tragedy of our childhood, perhaps our generation. That's why we all remember it. Similar to our parent's generation where JFK got shot... Everyone in my family knows exactly where they were when JFK was shot. Each had it's own meaning, but similar meaning. Both told us how much we were fallable, and how much our "perfect" reality (aka Camelot) could be shattered.

Sitting on the wall of the Cocoa High School library, eating horrible cafeteria pizza. We heard the launch, looked up and saw one line of smoke turn into two. And then debris raining down like fireworks in daytime.

Of course shortly thereafter our school psycho took great pleasure in informing us all he had done it. "It was me, I did it!" With his psycho eyes bulging out of his head.

He got married and settled down for a while. There was talk he was cured of his madness, but after a while he went crazy again and now his wife has a restraining order out on him or something.

The rest of the day was pretty fun because all of the teachers treated us like we were shocked and saddened when in fact we were so completely jaded about the shuttle we didn't give a shit anyway. As the Butthole Surfers once said, strangers die everyday.

It was extremely cold.
I, like wally428, was in Brevard County, Florida, but a few miles further south. Due east of Melbourne, FL is a small community called Indian Harbour Beach. Back in the mid-1980's there was a Super-X grocery store located on A1A, overlooking the beach. I was working the express lane cash register that cold, fateful morning. The storefront windows had only been cleaned of the ocean's salty spray an hour before the launch. Above the dunes the sun glinted from the tops of foamy sea-green waves. People began lining the front store window. Those better able to withstand the bracing winds sought vantage points at the edge of the parking lot.

Across from my register at the customer service desk a small television was tuned to one of the live local broadcasts. Machines beeped, orders were bagged, change was tendered. All was normal.


A mother bundled her two young children back into their jackets.


All eyes skyward, cheers and laughter arose from the spectators.

It didn't last long.

"Oh My God!!!" a voice cried.

I watched in stunned silence as the single, long cloud of vapor exploded into a ball of fire, yielding two swirling tendrils of smoke around an amoeba-like vision of falling debris. All activity in the store ceased.

Did what I think just happened really just happen?

Maybe it was a form of denial, but I started to chuckle nervously. Regardless, this is one of those events that shall be forever etched in my memory.
The date was Tuesday, January 28, 1986. I was living in Windsor, Ontario at the time. Home sick from school. Eighth grade. Lying on the sofa that was pulled out to be my bed for the day. I was watching television from there, most likely The Price is Right. There was an interuption and Peter Jennings came on to report that the space shuttle Challenger was blown to bits. 73 seconds into the flight.

I saw the images of the plume and the trails from the two solid rocket boosters which were now free from the destroyed shuttle and main tank. It wasn't something we were supposed to be seeing.

It took a full 5 minutes to realize that my jaw was still dropped. Just like Deadbolt, all that time I was thinking "the space shuttle is not supposed to do that." Repeated several times. It's supposed to leave the pad, roll a little, keep picking up speed, after a few minutes the 2 SLR's drop off, and then the main tank, and voila, the shuttle is in orbit. Open the bay doors and astronauts to their astronaut things. I was a nerdy little kid, fascinated with the stars and space programs. It was a shock. It was a jolt of reality. Manned space travel is very risky and it was demonstrated for the whole world.

The disaster was covered in the news for quite a few days after that.

At the moment when the space shuttle exploded, I was walking down a sandy dirt road through azaleas and scrub pines. I was whistling and smoking a cigarette, hands in my pockets, not a care in the world. I'd ditched the rocket launcher right after firing. Those babies lock onto a target and that's all she wrote. No worries: Too much ground to search, too much confusion and not enough manpower.

I was home free, with a fat check coming and a sense of pride in a job well done. I just kept on walking. I sang "The Weight" as I walked down that road, and then I sang "Juanita", the old Flying Burrito Brothers tune, and then I sang a few more. I have to tell you, I never felt that good before nor since.

This day began like any other day for me. I woke up early in the morning to read a bit before school (at the time, I was very much into the Hardy Boys, so it was likely I was reading one of the many novels in the series), and then my mom likely "woke" me so I would eat some sort of warm breakfast before I went out on a cold Midwestern morning to catch the school bus.

The moment where things begin to have some clarity was when we were all sitting in our classroom taking attendance, and our teacher told us that we were going to go watch the space shuttle launch in the LRC. I remember looking around the classroom at the bulletin board, which included a huge view of the space shuttle, with marked details all around it, along with a picture of seven astronauts sitting together. I recognized the fairly motherly looking one with the curly hair; she was a teacher, too. Her name was Christa McAuliffe.

I followed our teacher to the LRC along with my classmates. I had been looking forward to this day for weeks. It was my dream to be an astronaut, and this launch was special: a great deal of coverage of the launch had been delivered to us via our Weekly Readers for the last several weeks, stirring us up to a near-fever pitch. I wasn't alone in my anticipation of this event.

Our teacher had been entered into the competition to go into space, so there was yet another layer of interest there -- it could very easily had been Mrs. Ferguson who went up in that shuttle. To tell the truth, I was quite glad that it was not her ... she was my favorite teacher, and I still talk to her on a regular basis.

The LRC was full of kids, pretty much everyone that was close to my age that I knew was in the room. We all sat down on the green carpeting and watched the television. Dan Rather was discussing the significance of the trip, and we got a peek at the students of Christa McAuliffe.

I was especially intrigued with the whole countdown sequence; I had never seen a spaceship lift off before. The countdown reached zero, and a bevy of flames came out from under the ship, and ever so slowly it began to press upward.

The ship went higher and higher in the sky, and one of my friends at the time, who was far less interested in this than I was, began to prattle on about something. But I kept watching... I wanted to watch for as long as they would show the ship. And then suddenly...

I was probably the first person in the room to sense there was something wrong. The flame, which had burned almost constantly since the liftoff, began to change quite a bit in intensity. I gasped a bit, and my friend turned back toward the television.

And then it blew up.

The room had started to fill with the conversations of children, as one can imagine in a room jammed with all of the students in a primary school. But there was dead silence except for the voices on the television. Another explosion, and the ship seemed to burst into pieces in a ball of flame and smoke.

Stunned silence. My teacher started to cry, and so did many of the students in the room. One teacher turned off the television, and the teachers started to confer about how to handle the situation.

I didn't cry. I sat there staring at the blackened television for a while. I couldn't believe what had just happened.

The teachers turned the television back on after a bit, apparently deciding that this was a momentous event and that, since we had already experienced the trauma of the explosion, we might as well watch more of the coverage. Dan Rather grasped at straws to explain it to us.

They let us out of school early that day. After watching the coverage all morning, we went back to our classrooms. In our room, one wall was suddenly bare; while watching the coverage, Mrs. Ferguson had taken down all of the Challenger decorations.

When I got home, I watched a bit more of the coverage with my parents, and then I went to my bedroom, which at the time I shared with my two older brothers. The one poster on the wall that was mine was of the moon landing. I looked at Neil Armstrong and burst into tears.


I think this experience changed a lot of young lives in America. The explosion of the Challenger was to many of us the defining moment of our childhood, and a very strongly remembered moment to many, many more. I still do not like watching video of Challenger lifting off for the final time.

I gave up my dream of being an astronaut. Now I just want to be a writer.


I do not usually write daylogs, but I feel this is an important one in many ways. The explosion of the space shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 brought the memories of this day back vividly in my mind, and as I talked to my friends about it, I realized that Challenger really had affected us all. This is a day that our generation will share, much like the one before us shares November 22, 1963.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.