I was a senior in high school. Kristin came in late that day for some reason and I saw her between classes. She is the one who told me the space shuttle exploded. A couple of years earlier, a joke went around about the space shuttle exploding. I forgot the punch line (but remembered I thought the joke was funny) and thought she was going to tell me that joke. The punch line didn't come and my heat sank as I realized she was delivering news and not telling a joke.
I had a schedule that let me leave school at noon since I had no afternoon classes. I went home and had the television on watching the coverage until I had to go to basketball practice later that afternoon.
I was not born at the time of the Apollo 1 fire (January 24th, 1967) which had its 44th Anniversary yesterday. For a good personal account of this tragedy, read Gene Kranz's excellent book Failure is Not an Option. It captures both technical and personal aspects of the Apollo 1 fire that almost derailed the Apollo program.
The 8th Anniversary of the Columbia accident is next week, February 1st. I heard about it on NPR listening to Weekend Edition. I was living in Racine at the time and remember the publicity surrounding Laurel Clark, a Horlick high grad (I was performing in a show at the time and remember driving by Horlick and seeing all the news trucks around it that evening). One year the Kiwanis Club sold Christmas ornaments honoring the Columbia astronauts at Zoo Lights. I bought one even though I never put up a Christmas tree.NASA holds a Day of Remembrance each January since its major accidents are clustered at this time of year. I definitely remember all the NASA astronauts we have lost.
Reprinted with permission from the Half-Astrophysicist Blog.