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Your e-mails: 'Moment I'll never forget' readers reflect on the day Challenger exploded



start quoteWe will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved good-bye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God.end quote
-- President Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster


Do you remember where you were when you learned of the Challenger disaster?
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Challenger space shuttle

(CNN) -- asked readers to share their most vivid memories of the day of the Challenger disaster. That day, millions watching the shuttle take off realized, at the same moment, something had gone terribly wrong. Here is a sampling of those responses, some of which have been edited:

I was in the second grade in 1986. As children, we are taught to trust and rely on our teachers. Christa represented all of America's favorite teachers. We all lost a teacher that day. The death of the Challenger astronauts will always have a special impact on my generation. Matthew, Los Angeles, California

I grew up with the U.S. space program. Learning about the Mercury astronauts was what had inspired me to become an electronics engineer working at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. We were supporting the launch that day, and I was getting a feed of the live video. After the explosion, questions like "Where are the chutes? The escape pods?" were being asked. I found myself explaining to co-workers that there weren't any ejection systems, no parachutes, and the crew was gone. It was an empty day for all of us, however the most poignant comment came when I picked up my then five-year-old son from his after school care. He looked at me and said "Daddy, the astronauts didn't have a very good day today." Those simple words certainly applied to the country as whole on that day. Tomas C. Chavez, Las Cruces, New Mexico

I had just returned to work after having my daughter. It was a happy day filled with excitement surrounding Challenger. We had new computers that converted to TV's throughout the office. When the Challenger took off, we all had our TVs on and watched with exhilaration. We heard "go with throttle up." Then saw the "Y" formation. We knew something was wrong. It was a very sad day and a tragic loss. A time in my life I'll never forget. My thoughts and prayers go out to them. Dianna, Denver, Colorado

I was sitting with my dad on the couch when the disaster happened. When the shuttle blew up I was thinking to myself "This can't be real." My dad started to cry, then the realization that those people died, became a reality. I was eight at the time, and that was one of the most traumatic things I had ever witnessed. But, it is a testament to the faith and courage of those astronauts. Their dreams were accomplished, and they are now in the arms of God. Joey Thum, Bedford, Texas

I remember I was eight years old, a second grader eager to watch the shuttle go into another world beyond ours. I wanted to watch the actual launch from my classroom because I had overheard a news report the night before on the television. The next day I was so excited, and as the day went on, my curiosity only grew stronger. When my father picked me up from school that day, he told me the tragic news. Even though I was only eight, I understood what had happened and knew at that point that our space program was changed forever. When I finally saw the actual footage, I was numb. We had lost a great crew. Patricia, Mercedes, Texas

There are two things that stand out in my mind about that day. The first was a profound feeling of shock that such a thing could happen. The second was anger -- at the government for constantly cutting NASA's budget and putting them in a position where they had to take parts from one shuttle and put them on another in order for a launch to take place, and anger at the American people for not realizing just how important space exploration was and continues to be. Until NASA gets the funding that they need and their focus shifts from their public image to safety and progress, these horrible catastrophes will happen. Georgiana Bevacqua, Ormond Beach, Florida

I was sitting in the TV lobby of a dorm at the University of Texas at Austin and watching the shuttle lift-off. I've always been fascinated by the shuttles and their voyages. This one looked to be special because an "everyday" person, a teacher, would be on the flight. I was glued to the stories of Christa McAuliffe and couldn't wait to see her teach from space. I was sitting there dumbstruck with dozens of other college students, watching in complete shock as the events unfolded right in front of our eyes. I have vivid memories of that morning still. Casey Magnuson, San Antonio, Texas

Twenty years ago on that date I was working at the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center in Oberlin, Ohio, as an air traffic control specialist trainee. I had just walked into the break room, where about six or eight people were sitting, when a special broadcast announced the explosion. Within 20 minutes, the room expanded from those six or eight people to about 50 people with more milling about just outside the door. The shocked look on people's faces is something I will never forget. I walked back out on the floor with all the radar screens and an announcement was made over the loudspeaker to all the employees working that day that Challenger had exploded shortly after lift-off and that there were no survivors. That was the first time I ever heard the entire room go quiet. Andy Heins, Dayton, Ohio

My birthday is Jan 28th, 1978. In 1986, I was in the second grade and all ready to celebrate my birthday at school. It was going to be even sweeter since there was a shuttle launch that morning that we could watch. To my horror, I arrived at school and found out the terrible news. We spent the whole day watching the painful news over and over and over again. It was a really big thing here in Hawaii. Ellison Onizuka was going to be one of the first "local boys" in space. We in Hawaii are very proud of our local boys and girls who do well on a national scale. I was pretty numb the rest of the day and was scared for a while. Previously, I wanted to be an astronaut. My young career plans soon changed after that. It's still hard to watch the replays and see the stories every year without being a little emotional. I can't believe it's been 20 years already. In a way I'm glad the nation does not forget our fallen heroes. I was fortunate to be able to visit the Challenger's monument at Arlington. Its just tough for me to keep watching the videos and hearing "Roger, forward throttle up" and reliving what happens next. It's twenty years later and I'm a second-grader all over again when I hear about it on the news. Greg Nagamine, Mililani, Hawaii

The Challenger disaster could have been easily avoided. In the race to put humans into space we must always use patience and not politics. The stars will always be there for those who have the courage to explore them. David Chesterton, Boulder, Colorado

I was six years old and was on a family trip to Florida to watch the Challenger take off and to visit Walt Disney World. For days my family woke up at 4 a.m. to go to the Kennedy Space Center, only to have the mission delayed for several days in a row. On the 28th we decided to go to the theme park instead of the Space Center. We had just left Epcot Center when we walked out and everyone was staring at the sky. It was a beautiful blue day. We asked a man what had happened and he told us that the Challenger had exploded. The huge trail of smoke was right before our eyes. People were shocked. No one was speaking. I think this is what is most vivid in my memory -- the total stillness of the scene. It was absolutely quiet. Andrea Finch, Madison, Wisconsin

I remember I was in third grade and my teacher was showing us the takeoff of the Challenger on live TV. I'll never forget when he brought out the TV, we all counted down, and our class was cheering when Challenger took off. Then, when it exploded in the air, we were all in disbelief. As a second-grade teacher today, now teaching the solar system to my students, I told my class the Challenger story and remember how heartbreaking it was. It's a moment I'll never forget.
Lindsay, Bedminster, New Jersey

I was listening to the audio link when the accident happened. I remember the shock when we realized that the vehicle and crew had been lost. I lost a friend and colleague, Judy Resnik.
Tom O'Brien, Seabrook, Texas

Growing up in the shadow of the Kennedy Space Center, shuttle launches had become somewhat routine. I'm not sure what made me step outside that day during school to watch the launch, but I'll never forget that cloud hanging in the sky. I'll never forget the cold of that day. I'll never forget the silence of that moment. "Routine" became anything but on that cold morning.
Mark, Miami, Florida

I will always remember January 28, 1986. I was sitting in a doctor's office after experiencing some blurred vision and watched the Challenger explode on the TV in the waiting room live as it launched....I knew then that it was a bad day. Several minutes later I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as the cause of my blurred vision.
Steve Carpenter, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands

It was an unusually cold day for us in Gainesville, Florida, that January work day. I was at my desk working quietly when our engineering draftsman, who often had his radio on, volume turned low, stood and said aloud in a strange voice, "It blew up, it blew up." I was in deep thought working on my project for the day and replied, "What blew up, Jim?" "The space shuttle," he replied in a shocked and bewildered voice. "The space shuttle blew up."
Greg Hendricks, Gainesville, Florida

I was shopping for a VCR in a midtown Manhattan electronics store in New York. When the disaster struck, all the customers were watching the TV sets on display and buying nothing. I heard a salesman say, "This is ruining my business."
Jim Fleming, Valdosta, Georgia

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