(RNN) - It was like Pearl Harbor. It was like JFK's assassination. It was like 9/11 and the day Elvis died.
When the space shuttle Challenger exploded before a live TV audience of mostly schoolchildren, it left a permanent mark on the psyches of most Americans who were old enough to remember.
The Raycom News Network took an informal Facebook poll and asked people where they were when the Challenger exploded. We received more than 200 responses in less than an hour.
Bobbi Rahanek was an 8-year-old in North Dakota, and her mother kept her home to watch the launch. She was sitting on the floor watching the shuttle go up when it exploded.
"I screamed and cried and asked my mother if we could go there to help save them," she said. "When she told me no, I ran to my room and cried forever. To this day it saddens me for all of them and their families. What a tragedy and a dark day for us all."
Jodell Johnson-Bridge of Murrells Inlet, SC, was in Disney World in Orlando, FL, about 55 miles from Cape Canaveral, where the space shuttle launched.
"Everyone was looking up, thinking it was all routine," she said. "I will always remember the moment as a sad one, a moment when I was watching lives come to an end."
Shannon Bizzell Gray of Tampa, FL, was in the eighth grade at St. Bede Catholic School in Montgomery, AL. She said she remembers sitting in silence after the tragedy.
"Which says a lot for a bunch of eighth graders. All the kids just looking at each other like, 'That didn't just really happen did it?' They turned the TV off pretty quickly after it happened, and we just tried to go back to normal school life."
But for the schoolchildren who witnessed the tragedy, nothing about the day could ever be normal. For that generation, it was the first time they realized their heroes - their teachers - could vanish in a plume of smoke.
Sally Snider Costa, Pensacola, FL
"I was teaching preschool. We didn't know about it until several hours after it happened. When parents started picking up their kids around 12 p.m. we found out. I remember we turned on the only TV ... a 9-inch black and white ... and all of the teachers were crammed into the kitchen watching the replay of it. We all stood in there and cried."
"I was in the third grade at St. Athanasius Intermediate School in Louisville KY. My teacher came in crying and they rolled the TV set in the class for us to watch."
Gavin Miller, Montgomery, AL
"I remember being in elementary school. I think it was 2nd grade, watching it on an old brown tube TV in the auditorium. The auditorium was packed with every kid that went to school there. I also remember - when it exploded - the adults and teachers gasping. The other kids and I didn't understand what had happened. We were amazed because we thought that's how it got to space. The teachers tried to explain what had happened and then had us watch at the time president Ronald Reagan address everyone on TV."
Lewayne White, 38, of Griffin, GA, was in eighth grade at King Middle School in East Milton, FL.
"I think we either had a moment of silence or prayer. I do remember thinking how devastating the whole thing was. There had been discussion about a teacher going to space in the weeks prior."
Lois Yancey of Murrells Inlet, SC
"It was my husband's birthday. He had just come home from work. I decided not to watch it because I had seen most of the others. I went to the kitchen for a minute and just as I walked into the den it exploded. Not something you forget."
Brenda Davenport Sidney of Clemmons, NC
"My husband and I were buying a new car. My husband and salesman were busy arguing and did not hear the TV. I started yelling at them to be quiet and listen to the TV. They both thought I did not want them disagreeing but they soon realized what was happening. Everyone in the dealership stopped and came to watch the TV."
Ray H. Winters, Myrtle Beach, SC
"I had just come into my Alabama History class from homeroom and the principal came over the intercom to tell us something terrible had just happened; we just sat there dazed for what seemed like an eternity. Probably the only day that year we were quiet without the teacher yelling at us."
Pam Stewart Remmel
"It was my first day home from the hospital with my newborn, Kurtis. I was feeding him at our apartment on Sunset and was watching, then it happened. I called my husband at work and they were watching as well. So sad."
Jan White, Andalusia, AL
"My parents lived in Orlando then. My dad had gone fishing that morning and saw the unusual plume of smoke in the sky and knew something had gone terribly wrong. My mother came out of the grocery store to her car and saw the same thing and knew something tragic had happened."
Louis Cooper of Pensacola, FL, was in eighth grade and home sick that day.
"I remember we were watching the Price is Right and CBS broke through. They kept showing the explosion over and over … 'Challenger, go with throttle up,' and boom! Very sad day."
Michael Berger, Minnetonka, MN
"I was listening to the launch live on my car radio as I drove home from college mid-term exams. I was only a few miles from my parents' house when the explosion happened, and a raced home, yelling as I burst through their front door, "The shuttle blew up! The shuttle blew up!" I still can't watch the explosion without tearing up."
Kristal Aquarius Maull
"I was in kindergarten at Sands Montessori and that was a very sad day for America and NASA. I wish more could have been done back then, as far as making sure that everything was thoroughly checked before lift-off to ensure the safety of the astronauts of the Challenger. They will forever remain in our hearts, and may their families have found peace beyond understanding in the wake of that tragedy."
Michael Willard, 35, was a fifth grader at Rocky Ridge Elementary School in Jefferson County, AL. The Hickory, NC, resident said he was in Mrs. Underwood's class and were watching the launch live. Some of the teachers at his school had tried to win the chance to go up in space on the shuttle.
"I remember we were excited and everybody was watching ... and then, stunned silence. There was an announcement made over the intercom - again probably for the upper grades - notifying everyone of the disaster and I think it asked everyone to be silent and pray for the astronauts. I remember my teacher cried."
Helen Brown Peagler, Myrtle Beach, SC
"I watched live on TV, as most did. It was as devastating as watching the World Trade Center. Of course, they're moments that live in our memories forever!"
Ann Marie Medina of Montgomery, AL, was a senior at Lanier High School.
"We were one of the few classrooms that had a TV. I remember the entire school going silent and staying that way for awhile. Our teacher let us watch it, but I do believe we dismissed early that day. Since I work for (the same school system) and get to go to Lanier on the job, I always think about that day when I pass room 105."
Lusettie Bourne, Middletown, OH
"I was sitting in my living room watching it and hoping they have a safe return. As they lifted off a few minutes later, I saw it burst into flames. That was an unbelievable moment. My heart still goes out to their family members that had to experience such a horrible loss."
Shelley Meyers of Ellsinore, MO, was in fifth grade at East Carter Co. Elementary in Mrs. Dyana Wood's class.
"I will never forget how incredibly sad I was, and I will never forget the vivid details of that day. Still to this day, I can get just a glimpse of that explosion in the sky with the smoke trail behind it and instantly recognize what it is."
Julie Joyner of Montgomery, AL, was 23-years old at the time and working in Birmingham, AL.
"I was standing in the file room of the place I worked listening to the radio when I heard the news. We ran to the break room and turned on the TV to see what was going on. My heart sank. It was so sad."
Rick H. Sinclair, Cape Girardeau, MO
"I was on the air in Sikeston at the time. I'll NEVER forget. The shock of seeing the footage on the air."
"I was at the school volunteering in my son's class room. They were watching the launch because of the teacher on board, Christa McAuliffe. At first those kids thought it was fireworks going off and cheered. The teacher, the class room aide and I realized what we witnessed and turned the TV off. We did not know at that moment what to say to the children. We were in shock."
Laurie Fleming Maycrovich
"I was a new teacher at the time. My class of fifth-graders and I were watching it on TV when it happened. I remember one of my students saying "It just exploded." I was in shock and was hoping he was wrong. It was one of those classroom moments I've never forgotten."
"I was stationed in Norfolk, VA, working on a submarine dry dock, and we were on lunch break, when the captain of the ship came over the loud speaker and announced what had happened. All TVs on board were tuned to the news and lunch was extended for all. Anyone that was on topside of the dry dock could hear the announcement being made on all the ships around us that were parked by the pier."
Tara Thomas Grimes
"We had gone to Cape Canaveral to watch the launch, but it was postponed. I was staying with my aunt in Jupiter, FL, when it did finally launch, and we were watching from outside. I knew when I saw all the smoke that something was terribly wrong. I can remember I started crying, and we watched the news all of that day and the next in a state of disbelief. RIP, Challenger crew!! You will never be forgotten!!"
Jeanette Gardner Houghteling was a fifth grader, and one of her teachers had applied to be on the shuttle.
"We were all watching as it exploded. Most of the people started crying along with myself. Others were sitting there in total shock and disbelief. It was as if it was happening in slow motion and still to this day it is in my head. Besides 9-11 it is the only other day in history that people of our Generation will never forget!!"
Christina Cowell, Toledo, OH
"I was in my fourth-grade computer class watching on the projection TV. I will never forget the silence that spilled over in the school. I remember being in awe and cried."
"I was in my first year of working out of college as a receptionist. I was standing at the front office copier when it came over the radio. My knees suddenly weakened as I realized no one could have survived. I immediately thought of Christa the awful trauma her parents and students went through, witnessing the tragic explosion."
Angel Gigax, Montpelier, OH
"I was in Mr. Jim Steinhelfer's sixth-grade Science class. What I remember was the shock it brought to all of our faces but what made it sink in was seeing tears in Mr. Steinhelfer's eyes. It was a very talkative day for us all."
Pat Amerson, Andalusia, AL
"I came home to see my parents from Atlanta. My Father was sitting on the front porch. This is the first time I've ever seen my dad cry! He worked for McDonnell Douglas at the time."
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