It was one of those days that if you were alive and old enough, you remember where you were when you heard the news.
The day was Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986 — when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, live on television.
I was just coming back from classes at what was then North Adams State College in Massachusetts (now Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), to find my roommate and others on my floor gathered around the television watching the news about what had just happened.
Eight miles out from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Challenger was blown apart by an explosion 74 seconds after liftoff. Killed were six NASA astronauts, along with Concord, New Hampshire social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe.
McAuliffe, a married mother of two, and a finalist to be the first lay passenger to go into space, was selected to ride about the space shuttle by then-Vice President George H.W. Bush on Friday, July 19, 1985.
Joining McAuliffe on that fateful, historic ride were NASA astronauts Ellison S. Onizuka, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, Judith A. Resnik, Gregory B. Jarvis, Ronald E. McNair and Michael J. Smith. All would perish that day.
The news struck a chord with people everywhere, whether they were in Cape Canaveral, North Adams, or right here in Central Jersey.
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At Bridgewater's Eisenhower School, then 14-year-old Scott Liccardo, an eighth grader who was in the school's library when the first replays of the disaster were shown on TV, said, "Everybody pretty much just gasped and was pretty shocked."
James DeCicco, who was principal at Eisenhower School, said, "There was a somberness that I've never experienced before, ever. I think the fact that there was a teacher had a greater impact because they could relate to a teacher."
Shawnet Adams, then an eighth grader at Sampson G. Smith School in the Somerset section of Franklin, thought the Challenger launch was premature.
"I don't think the shuttle was ready to go up," Adams said. "If it hadn't gone up, it wouldn't have blown up. I think God was trying to tell them something."
The disaster also hit a nerve with teachers, such as Barbara Feldman, coordinator of Plainfield High School's science department at the time. Feldman had been one of the teachers who had applied to ride in the shuttle.
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"When it took off, I had tears of joy running down my face. We were so excited," she said at the time. "I was saying to myself, 'God, why couldn't it be me up there. But when it took off, I noticed that it didn't look normal. There looked like a premature separation. We didn't realize what had happened for a couple of minutes."
And some Central Jerseyans were not just watching the horror unfold on television, but right at Kennedy Space Center.
Such as former Milltown resident Emma Nicholas.
"There were 10,000 people there and you could have heard a pin drop," said Nicholas of when the explosion occurred.
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Nicholas's brother and sister-in-law, John and Verna Glock, watched from their backyard in Barefoot Bay, Florida.
"When I saw that hot debris dropping into the ocean I thought, God, there's nothing left," said John Glock, then 64, formerly of Spotswood, who had retired to Florida in January 1984.
"I feel very shaken, very depressed it happened so close to us. Being there, it feels worse," Nicholas said.
Central Jersey school psychologists also weighed in on the impact they felt the tragedy would have upon children.
Gerald F. Ford, a school psychologist at the North Brunswick high and middle schools, said, "I would think it's going to impact pretty seriously on kids who have followed this closely. There's an identification with someone who is a real teacher going up into space. This has been publicized so heavily right from (the) beginning since the president proposed it."
"She was very brave to go up," said Julie Gast, then Student Council president and a sixth grader at Hillsborough School, who wanted to send a letter to McAuliffe's family. "I would tell them I feel very sorry for them and I was looking forward to seeing her go up. And I was shocked and I have great sympathy for them. And I wish it didn't happen."
Feldman's enthusiasm of space flight was undaunted. "I would still be there as an applicant. We can't let something like this stop us," she said.
This article was compiled using archived reports that appeared in the Courier News.
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This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Challenger explosion anniversary: Remembering Jan. 28, 1986