The only interest in the Challenger voyage was that a school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, was included. Other than that, shuttle launches had become rather routine. Back in Kindergarten we had gathered with all the other students in the school to watch the liftoff of Columbia, the first shuttle launch. After that we continued to watch launches for the next few and then they ceased to be something that drew us out of the routine of a normal school day. Now we were in sixth grade and only the first and second graders were going to be watching the launch as such things were still new and exciting to them.
We were in the middle of some classroom free time is Mrs. Astin's sixth grade. In her class you could earn certain privileges to use during free time. One was the ability to listen to music on your Walkman, which Angie Adams was doing that day. Suddenly Angie, a tall blonde, stood up from her desk, pulled off her headphones, and said, "The shuttle just blew up."
Startled sixth grade faces all turned to Angie. "Isn't that the one with the teacher?" someone who had been paying attention to their Weekly Reader asked. Mrs. Astin looked alarmed. She told us to wait a moment as she stepped outside into the media center which occupied the middle of Rockdale Elementary. She quickly returned and told us that indeed the shuttle had exploded, and then our class went to sit in front of the television where the first and second graders had been watching, though they had already been ushered back to their classrooms.
That day was a Tuesday and an election day in Oklahoma, school elections I believe. Our elementary was a precinct, so just inside our front doors were the elderly women who usually staff polling places. As citizens came in to vote many were startled to see the coverage of the explosion on the big screen television and would join us momentarily to watch.
One element of the coverage that day has also stayed with me. It was reported that when Nancy Reagan saw the explosion she said, "Oh, God."
Until September 11, 2001 this was the moment when Gen-Xers remembered precisely where they were when they heard the news (the JFK assassination had been that for Baby Boomers).
A coda. My parents, both school teachers, had been among the many thousands of educators who had initially applied to the program that eventually selected Christa McAuliffe.