INDIANAPOLIS — The Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crew members aboard were killed, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first American civilian selected to go to space.
Thousands of students across the country tuned in to see the historic moment, and watched in disbelief as the tragedy unfolded.
Former WRTV reporter Mindy Mintz went to Craig Middle School in Lawrence Township to speak with students about the disaster.
“For the first three minutes, I really didn’t realize that it had happened,” said one student.
Another student tried to comprehend what he saw.
“I see explosions of spaceships blowing up in Star Wars and everything, and that didn’t have an impact. But when I actually saw people actually dying in an explosion, I really felt bad because I had never seen that happen before.”
McAulliffe was on the minds of many students, including one who had a family member that also wanted to be the first teacher in space.
“My aunt who lives in Cincinnati, she applied. I just thought yesterday that if she had actually been on there, would she want to die for our knowledge of outer space?”
Two years before the doomed Challenger flight, thousands of teachers from all over America were vying for the chance to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space Project.
McAulliffe was selected out of more than 11,000 interested teachers, including fourth-grade teacher Rick Crosslin of Chapel Glen Elementary School in Wayne Township.
Crosslin spoke with former WRTV reporter Barb Love in December 1982. Crosslin said he was up for the challenge.
“I’m in good shape. The kids and I play soccer a lot. I’ve traveled a lot. I'm not afraid to travel. I’m real adaptable and flexible.”
Crosslin’s students were also excited about sending their teacher to space.
“I think that he deserves to go in space because he’s one of the best teachers.”
Another student hoped to gain the endorsement of President Ronald Reagan.
“I wrote that our moms and dads voted for you, so you should vote for our teacher to go to the moon.”