Twenty years ago today, I was 17 years old and a senior in high school. We were sitting in Coach Reid's classroom that morning, talking and probably playing Rook. Coach Reid had been out of the room, but ran into the room and rushed over to the large wood enclosed TV that sat on one of his two desks. He turned it on and yelled "Look at this!"
Now this was unusual, because Coach Reid was not known to be very excitable, other than occasionally throwing an eraser at someone who was being particularly dense while answering math problems at the chalkboard. So naturally we all quickly stood up and gathered around the television set.
I knew there was supposed to be a shuttle launch that morning, but I hadn't really thought much about it. I've always been a space buff, but like everyone else shuttle launchs had become a little routine. Once the TV warmed up and the picture appeared I could see that it was a view of Kennedy Center and they were saying something about the shuttle launch experiencing problems. A few minutes later they showed the replay of the launch, with the familiar huge white cloud and the SRBs snaking off to both sides. My heart sank at that point because I knew they were all dead.
Someone in the class said something like "well, I'm sure they ejected." I said "No, they don't have ejection seats on the shuttle, they'd have to physically go to a door, open it, and jump out." I knew this because I used to read everything I could about the shuttle and while the first few shuttle launches had ejection seats since there were only two people on board, none of the later ones did. They still don't.
In the following weeks I became completely disillusioned with NASA. I think they have brilliant people working there, but their vision is set by politicians and as we all know, politicians pretty much suck. I used to tell people after the Challenger accident that I'd still love to take a ride on the shuttle. How insane was that? I'm not sure I'd even want to be in the state of Florida when it launches anymore.