I was at Tarpon Springs High at the time. This was 1986, decades before smartphones or even flip cell phones. Beepers were a luxury. Any connection to the outside world was through radio or television, and we didn't have cable in the schools so it was all wobbly antenna with bad reception.
I think they had a television going in the school library when it happened. Most of us were in class though, and we heard about it when the principal got on the speakers to announce the bad news.
Even with Tarpon Springs on the Gulf Coast, on some mornings when NASA was doing their launches from the Cape over on the Atlantic Coast, we could see on clear mornings the distant fire of the engines and the smoky contrails of a space shuttle launch. There was at least one launch like that I watched as we drove up Alt. US 19 towards Klosterman one morning, it was a beautiful sight.
The launch that morning for the Challenger didn't happen that early, so that was one I missed.
It was horrifying, what had happened. I saw the replays afterward on that television in the library.
And yet, we strove on. There had been another shuttle disaster years later - February 2003, the Columbia exploded on re-entry - yet we keep going into space, we keep finding other ways and make other plans.
All the dangers and risks of space travel, all the expense, is worth something. As much as the challenge itself as the means of expanding our knowledge of science, and improving our ability to survive in the harshest of environments to ensure the survival of our world.
As Kennedy once spoke in 1962 to argue for increasing funding to NASA:
We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win...And as Carl Sagan often reminded us:
The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we've learned most of what we know. Recently, we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself...