Where were you? Readers share memories of Challenger


This 1986 file photo provided by NASA shows the crew of the space shuttle Challenger. From left are Ellison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judith Resnik. (AP Photo/NASA)

Published: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 28, 2011 at 10:09 a.m.

Watching the tragic launch on TV with her newborn now grown, sharing a sense of tragedy from far way, reflecting on a day they'll never forget. Gainesville.com has asked readers to share their recollections of the space shuttle Challenger disaster on its Facebook page -- and that's what we're hearing.

Please contribute your recollections on the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion at www.facebook.com/GainesvilleSun or send an e-mail to Online News Editor Joe Byrnes at joe.byrnes@gvillesun.com.

Linda Avery: I was at work in the Department of Medicine, and we were watching a TV in a lab across the hall when it happened! We could hardly believe it.

Michael J. Pitts: I was in the Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in the 82nd Airborne Division. I was an 18-year-old boy learning to be a man. I remember thinking about the shuttle lifting off that day. Being from Central Florida, Inverness, I remember watching it from my house, seeing the flames from the engines and the vapor trail it left. We were back in the barracks for lunch that day. I remember exiting my room and getting about 5 steps into the hall when people started shouting from their rooms about the explosion. I ran back into my room and put on the TV. That was a sad day, I remember everyone in formation being all gloomy and talking about it. Very sad.

Larry Shroads: I was watching the launch from Gainesville across an open field to the southeast on that very, very cold morning. I even remember scraping frost off the back of my car before going to work. We knew something was very ,very wrong ... but my haunting memory is how long it took for the cloud from the explosion to dissipate on that crystal clear morning. It seemed like it lasted all day...

My car has a Challenger/Columbia license plate to remind me every day, not just today.

Maria Gavin: That Day I was living in Tempe, AZ, and was in the Army recruiter's office signing the papers to join the Army when the news came over the local TV news that the Challenger had blown up. Very sad day.

Kimberlyn Piper: I was pregnant with my now-25-year-old son. I was in Orlando, Florida, and I had just got out of my car on my way into Publix. I looked up in the sky, saw the Challenger ascending into the atmosphere, and, all of sudden, I noticed large fumes of smoke and large particles going in various directions ... My initial thought was something is wrong, something is just not right. After going into the Publix, several people began to talk about the unfortunate situation, and I was so shocked and sad! I only wish that they had postponed the launch another time as this particular launch had already been postponed due to weather conditions several times prior.

Rose Aguilar: I remember very clearly where I was on that day in January. I was working at Sperry Rand Corporation, (which is now Lockheed Martin) in New York City. I was on an errand for my supervisor, when I came across Peggy, our Teller-Room typist, was coming down the hallway, crying uncontrollable. I asked her, "Why she was crying, and if there was anything I could do for her." She said "The space shuttle Challenger" had just exploded. At first I thought I had misunderstood what she was saying, it just did not seem real. We just stood there in that hallway, hugging each other, crying and trying to comfort each other.

I remember seeing Christa McAuliffe's family on television, all excited days before. I remember seeing the interview with Mr. McNair, astronaut Ron McNair's dad, also days before.

There are two other unbelievable months that I will always remember and know exactly where I was, in November when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and September when our world was torn apart.

Neil Lawrence II, Captain, USAF Retired: I was an Emergency Actions (EA) Officer for the 10th TRW's Command Post at RAF Alconbury, and we were just settling down in after retreat. We had just turned on our British TV in the EA Cell when the news flash came. We immediately went to our QRF (Quick Reaction File) and ran the appropriate checklists to notify the commanders and units on the base that a significant event had occurred which might cause public attention (e.g. calls from the British press and local citizens.) It was quite a shock to all of us.

Joyce Browning: I had just walked out of the classroom at Sante Fe Community College after taking a final exam. Our instructor was watching the liftoff in his office, and I had gone in there to watch it.

Very sad day.

Jackie Cunningham: I was doing student teaching at a middle school when one of the students came in and told the class that the Challenger blew up. I initially scolded him, as I thought he wasn't telling the truth, but sadly learned soon thereafter that he was telling the truth.

Holly Howell: I was sitting on the floor watching the launch on TV with my newborn son. I knew something was wrong and held him tight. He is 25 now, and we both watch the launches together whenever we can.

Wendy Thomas Moon: Sitting in my living room with my newborn son, building a fire in the fireplace and watched the news ... terribly sad day.

John Salmeier: Hard to believe it was 25 years ago tomorrow the our squadron gathered around in the crew room in Basdahl, Germany, listening to the delayed reports of the Challenger tragedy. I guess my gray hair is telling me it has been that long.

Sad that both my first and last Air Force assignment's had shuttle disaster memories - the Columbia disaster happened when posted at Cape Cod Air Force Station. I spent two months converting launch and orbital observation radar data tapes into CD's for permanent storage.

Tawny Collins: Our yearbook group was at Kennedy Space Center the day before to see the launch. It was scrubbed at T-20 "something" seconds. The next day (in Vero Beach Florida right up the coast) I sat on the hood of my car to watch the shuttle liftoff during my "senior" lunch break off campus. Watched it happen ... watching rockets and shuttles was common on the Florida East Coast. Knew something was wrong before the "RADIO" said so. I just remember running back into the classroom and telling everyone the shuttle just blew up. It was obvious. The exhaust trail was so different than in the past. I'll NEVER forget it!!

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