Twenty-five years after the Challenger disaster

the Space Shuttle Challenger, Jan. 28, 1986. AP file photo by Bruce Weaver

I was in second grade when the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated off the Florida Coast on Jan. 28, 1986. My teacher could barely get the words out. She wheeled in a television set, turned on the news, and we watched that now-iconic clip, which was played over and over for days.

In the mid-1980s — at least, before that day — if you asked a little kid at my school or on my block about his or her career aspirations, there was a good chance you’d hear they wanted to be an astronaut. I wonder if the Challenger changed that. It certainly complicated my notions of space travel.

Pete Cuddyre, a retired Oakland principal, was at Joaquin Miller Elementary School at the time. He said his faculty saw the event as a teachable moment.

Children in the lower grades made artwork of the various stages of the disaster, he said. In the upper grades, there were discussions about the risks that explorers take — not only space explorers, but all kinds.

They talked about the sacrifices that made by the families of those explorers, too.

Cuddyre said that as he watched the news coverage, he was struck by the expressions on the faces of the family members. “They were just stunned and in complete confusion on what in the world was happening,” he said.

For those of you who are old enough to remember, what do you recall about that day?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • A_concerned_teacher

    I was in fourth grade, but I wasn’t in school that day. I was scheduled for an operation to treat a hereditary bone condition.

    The operation was delayed, and I remember that, as I waited, they wouldn’t let me turn on the tv in the room.

    Later, I learned that my teacher had broken down as he tried to explain it to the class–my teacher, at my science magnet elementary school, who had been one of the finalists for the Teacher In Space program. My teacher, who could have been ON that doomed shuttle.

    He had my classmates make me get-well cards. When I came back to school, on crutches, he taught me how to juggle, so I’d have something to do while he led the other kids in PE.

    I remember thinking about what a good teacher I had, and what it would have been like to lose him. Like Christa McAuliffe’s class lost her, in that second.

  • Katy Murphy

    Wow. Thank you for sharing that story.

  • http://joetote1.blogspot.com joetote

    I was sitting in a lawn chair in the parking lot at Tampa Jai Alai with about ten people. We had a clear view of the liftoff. I’ll never forget the gasp from everyone when the explosion occurred and we saw it split like a set of horns on top. I had binoculars and was able to see separate pieces falling. The tears were rolling from everyone’s eyes and for close to 3 minutes there was utter silence. It’s like it was yesterday.

  • J.R.

    Good teachers are as good as gold, it’s too bad that they can’t be kept and paid what they are worth. Unfortunately when you have forced a system where everyone is paid the same(relative to service time and irregardless of ability)keeping and paying the best is just not possible. It’s just wasted opportunities is what it is.


  • Starshaped

    I too, was not at school that day. I told my mom I was sick and I wasn’t. I just didn’t want to go to school. We had talked a lot about the mission in school as it was a teacher going up there in space. I guess the staff was pretty stoked on one of their own (although, obviously not from my school) was going up into space, living the dream of space flight. I remember turning on the tv, and the sadness that just oozed out of it, on every channel (no cable in our house). I think I felt like I was experiencing the disaster in isolation. It was a pretty lonely day. I have always wished that I had gone to school that day. I think it did change how people viewed space. It was too much for people to watch anymore. The excitement was diluted with tradgedy.