Challenger disaster: Americans share memories on 30th anniversary of space shuttle explosion

‘I remember our class gathering around a TV to watch. It was the first time I saw a teacher cry.’

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff, killing all seven onboard and forever changing the lives of those who witnessed it.

As their families gathered at the Kennedy Space Center on Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of the disaster, Americans old enough to remember watching the Challenger’s fateful flight are sharing their memories online.

In a series of tweets, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, who was President Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter at the time, recalled what was happening behind the scenes.

Noonan tweeted:

The Magee poem, High Flight, posed a challenge in the text. If the president quoted it [with] the preface, “As the poet JG Magee put it...” the end of the speech would not have worked and done its job. Clunky, awkward, would take you from RR’s thought to “Who’s Magee?” So I thought, it’s a famous enough poem that some will get the reference. I decided: put the Magee poem in quotes, without citation. Speech went out within WH for comment. All busy, chaos, tension. Didn’t know if RR would use the poem, he would if he knew it, if not no. As a precaution I called the press office — if reporters ask about the end of the speech it quotes poem by JG Magee, Jr. All set. Then an old friend I worked with at CBS called. Anything we should know about the speech? Stupidly, dumbly, I said yes. I told her the president may quote a poem at the end. Told her name and author. Thinking maybe after the speech they can read poem aloud. The CBS person got the Magee poem and gave it to anchor Dan Rather. But wires got crossed. He read part of the poem before Reagan spoke. I watched, heart in mouth. Oh no!  Then the president came on, gave his speech, used the quote. Relief. But I had to tell my boss. An anchor knew part of what the President would say in advance. Break of protocol in those days. I told the boss and was chastised. But in the flurry of the day my CBS mistake was hardly noticed. Went home that night upset about it, and feeling the speech hadn’t scoured, which was Lincoln’s word for what an effective speech does. Anyway, an awkward painful scattered day for all.

Here is that speech.