This is how Washington Post staff writer Kathy Sawyer reported the Challenger disaster:
CAPE CANAVERAL, Jan. 28, 1986 — Awareness came slowly, not in a fiery burst, to those watching the shuttle launch from the better seats — the grandstands set up for families of the astronauts, dignitaries, the news media and a class of third graders with connections.
The chest-trembling, concussive roar of the liftoff, lagging behind the rising spaceship, had reached us. The spacecraft, clinging fly-fashion to the “wall” of tanks containing 3.8 million pounds of fuel, had been up about one minute.
We were gasping and cheering at the column of fire-topped smoke growing like a beanstalk into a cold, blue sky. As the rumbling sound (still trailing the visible scene) continued, a curious rooster tail seemed to form almost gently at the top, with glints of fire in it.
It took an age to realize that the column ended there.
It was one of those moments so shocking, so tragic, so overwhelming, that I don’t think anyone quite believed it when they saw it—or in my case heard about it.
I was in my second year of college, and I was in class that morning. When a friend of mine told me what happened, I thought he was joking.
“That’s a pretty sick joke,” I told him. “Even for you.”
Then after class, I walked over to a popular campus hangout. As soon as I walked in, I was struck by the silence. This place was never silent. I noticed everyone was looking at one of the TV monitors, so I looked up and saw the Challenger disintegrating.
Over and over again on a continuous loop.
I don’t remember much else that day, except for the stunned silence everywhere I went.