Ronald Reagan and the nation mourn the Challenger shuttle disaster 30 years ago today

And for those of us who witnessed it, we still mourn. As with the President John F. Kennedy assassination, we, who are old enough, will forever remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard. We won't forget because it was one of the worst American tragedies to unfold before our eyes. Millions watched on January 28, 1986--exactly 30 years ago today--as the Space Shuttle Orbiter Challenger broke up in a devastating explosion 73 seconds after liftoff. All seven astronauts including a teacher, Christa McAliffe, died as their horrified families and so many of us watched.

As described by History.com, there were an exceptional number of school children watching because the New Hampshire teacher had been selected from many volunteers to join the mission and teach lessons from space to schoolchildren around the country.

That night, President Ronald Reagan put aside his scheduled state-of-the-union address and instead spoke to the nation from his oval office. I wasn't a Reagan fan at the time, but his condolences still resound today. His moving speech follows:

You'll probably see repeats of the disaster today, and here's fair warning: It's hard to watch.

Honoring the Challenger crew:

In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Related: How the Challenger disaster affected the NASA space program, at CNN.
Read why Americans need to learn about the nation's most ignored war. 

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  • Thank you, Dennis. I didn't watch it, since I was at work, but I still remember hearing a co-worker behind me getting the news... and then getting off the phone and telling us. I am too young to remember JFK, but I remember this clearly. I think I'll use it in arguments from younger people about how long we'll keep remembering Sept. 11.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Thanks for reading, Margaret. I do remember the Kennedy assassination--I was in graduate school at the time. Kind of dates me, doesn't it?

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