Where I Was: The Space Shuttle Challenger

“Hey, did you hear the space shuttle blew up?”

It sounded like the first line of a very bad joke. But as we found out later, it was all too real.

I was standing in line buying typing paper (yes, typing paper) at the Columbus Technical Institute bookstore. A guy came in and asked the girl in front of me if she’d heard the shuttle blew up. She and I both dismissed him, but he said he’d heard it on the radio. We told him he must have heard it wrong; it couldn’t possibly have blown up. There must have been a small fire and the reporter made it sound worse than it was.

I bought my paper and went to class. As soon as I walked in, I knew something was wrong. The instructor — who was the definition of professionalism and punctuality — wasn’t in the room. She was always in the room. I took my seat and waited…  and waited… and waited…  Finally, about 5 minutes after class was supposed to start, she came in the room with tears streaming down her face. Being the professional that she was, she apologized for being late. That’s when she broke the news:

“The space shuttle exploded and everyone was killed. I’ve been watching the news coverage.”

The typewriters that had been clicking away were suddenly silent. No one knew what to say or what to do. All we could do was look at each other in disbelief.

My instructor, ever the professional, went to her desk and pulled out the exercises for that day. Yes, she went on with class. I don’t remember any of it.

Typing was my last class that day. I drove home, listening to news on the radio, trying to comprehend what had happened. It wasn’t until I got home that I first saw those awful images. Even then, it didn’t make sense. In some ways, it still doesn’t.

Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo taken by Amy Crow, 2009.
Posted: January 28, 2011.

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  • They mentioned on the news all of the thousands of “school children” who watched the launch live that day because of school teacher, Christa McAuliffe. I was sitting in my 11th grade American History class and still remember vividly the confusion and disbelief we all felt when we saw it happen live. How fragile life seemed after that…