Just before noon on January 28, 1986, people watched with excitement as the space shuttle Challenger lifted off from its Florida launch pad -- but that excitement and hope soon turned into horror. What set this one apart was the diversity of the crew and the addition of the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe. The shuttle took off buoyed by hope and pride, watched by a nation enamored with the great U.S. space program and by schoolchildren filling classrooms early in the morning.
Seventy-three seconds later, the shuttle disappeared into an orange and white cloud, and the nation stood in shock and disbelief.
President Ronald Reagan, in a moving broadcast to the nation that afternoon, paraphrased a sonnet written by John Gillespie Magee, a young American airman killed in World War II saying the crew "slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."