Jan 28, 2011 10:37 PM by Matt Stafford

Challenger disaster remembered in Colorado Springs

"They were all going to the capsule and they were happy; they were light-footed, they were waving at the cameras," describes Robert Allan, remembering getting excited before the launch of the Challenger space shuttle.

His excitement turned to horror just more than a minute after take off as viewers everywhere witnessed disaster. January 28th, 1986 the shuttle broke apart in the air, disintegrating on its way down and killing all of the seven members of the crew -- including Christa McAuliffe who was supposed to be the first teacher in space.

"I suspected something was terribly wrong, but I didn't realize how wrong," said Marilyn Szorc who was watching the events unfold in front of her eyes at home.

"You knew in your heart that they were gone," Allan adds.

"Anytime I see that picture of the plumes it brings this all back to me," says Elaine Pierce who also witnessed the tragedy.

For generations that didn't watch it live some may be getting their first experience of the tragedy watching anniversary footage Friday.

Eighth graders Emma Costello and Kaylyn Fitzpatrick -- at Challenger Middle School in Colorado Springs -- run stories on a student broadcast every week, but Friday's was a special project for them.

"It's the reason that we're named that (Challenger M.S.)," says Costello. "I think that everybody should know how it became and why it's named what it is."

Even though it was 25 years ago, they want to give the tragedy relevance to their classmates.

"That we can just learn a little bit more about it," adds Fitzpatrick.

The more thought that is put in to the disaster -- about the crew -- it can be hard to get past what happened and think about what was trying to be done.

"It brought up fundamental questions. Like, is it worth it?" says Janet Stevens, a vice president at the Space Foundation; a group committed to generating interest, education, and support for space exploration.

The question of worth is one that's still asked today; in a time when the space shuttle is being retired and NASA's budget has been reduced to less than one percent of the federal budget. The foundation understands the dangers with exploration -- and Challenger was a prime example -- but they say the reward for gained knowledge is worth the risk.

"If you look at what kids could do today -- what they can look forward to -- maybe some of them will be going to Mars," says Stevens.

So as we're humbled remembering our past, it doesn't stop the dreaming for tomorrow.



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