Remembering the Challenger: 25 Years Ago, Space Shuttle Exploded After Liftoff

25 years ago today, space shuttle blew up after liftoff

ByABC News
January 27, 2011, 6:48 PM

Jan. 28, 2011 — -- Just before noon on January 28, 1986, people watched with excitement as the space shuttle Challenger lifted off from its Florida launch pad -- but that excitement and hope soon turned into horror.

Just seventy-three seconds after liftoff, Challenger exploded, killing all seven astronauts on board.

One of its crew members was Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher from New Hampshire who had won a national competition to become the first teacher in space.

The goal was to boost interest in space exploration among American school children, many of whom were watching the Challenger's launch live on television or in person.

"We were all outside and the kids were all standing around and all of sudden we saw the smoke break into the Y shape," said Kari Anna Roy, who was in fourth grade at an elementary school in Lutz, Fla. "The teachers immediately knew something was wrong and rushed us back inside."

Roy said it took a while for her and her fellow classmates to grasp what happened.

"There was a teacher on board and we had been very excited about it and talking about it in school for a long time," she said. "It was a pretty devastating kind of thing especially for a school and we had all directly seen it happen right there."

Kevin Baron, now a reporter for Stars and Stripes, said that his Orlando elementary school watched every shuttle launch.

"We were in the lunchroom when the principal came in to tell us to turn on all the TVs," Baron said. "We walked outside into the field and the smoke trail was still coming down. We spent the rest of the day in school watching TV."

Jen Vargas also watched the launch from her Orlando elementary school.

"It was right before lunch, we were standing out there watching the shuttle go up. Usually it just goes straight up and it kind of veered off to the right. A lot of kids were confused, I was confused," she said. "We were crying and upset because we knew we had just seen the astronauts walk out and wave into the crowd and everything, and then we see them go up and the explosion happened.