Twenty five years ago yesterday, January 28, 1986, is an unforgettable day. Twenty five years after NASA's first fatal in-flight accident, the memories of Challenger and crew are strong and vivid.
I was working at CBS TV in West Palm Beach, Florida in 1986; just getting started in my career during an exciting time. West Palm Beach is about 150 miles from the Kennedy Space Center so most NASA launches could be seen on the horizon with naked eyes, even from that distance. My father worked for Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies organization that provided support to NASA, so space missions were a big deal in our home and for the local community. And JFK's legacy was a strong force in the area because of his role in the NASA program, and the Kennedy home in Palm Beach was visited often by extended family.
January 28th was a beautiful, crisp day with perfect visibility. I was at CBS, just before my shift started, watching live in the studio lobby with a vantage point to see the launch on TV and in the sky at the same time. After 73 seconds, it was immediately apparent that something went terribly wrong. It was a surreal and very sad moment.
Seven lives were lost in the Challenger explosion: Dick Scobee, commander; Michael J. Smith, pilot; Ellison Onizuka, mission specialist; Judy Resnik, mission specialist; Ron McNair, mission specialist; Gregory Jarvis, payload specialist; and Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist and teacher. The world mourned.
The Challenger crew were very special people. They gave everything in the spirit of science, innovation, education and a desire to create something good for humanity. I will always have fond memories of them and their achievements.