How Knoxville reacted to the Challenger disaster

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Knoxville residents were saddened and shocked by the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy 30 years ago on January 28, 1986. Seven astronauts were killed in the disaster, perhaps the best remembered being school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

It was for that reason that so many people saw the disaster on live television. Students and teachers watched the launch in their classrooms, feeling that one of their own was accomplishing something great by going into space. Then, the tragedy struck. Those same students and teachers watched in horror as the shuttle exploded shortly thereafter.

Related story: 30 years since Challenger: New voice at astronauts’ memorial

Among those watching were students at St. Joseph’s School in Knoxville. WATE 6 On Your Side caught up with some of those students later that day.

Knoxville residents WATE 6 On Your Side interviewed couldn’t believe what had happened.

Many compared the shocking nature of the disaster to that of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Crews also interviewed the late Hank Hartsfield at UT’s Space Institute in Tullahoma. He had flown on three shuttle missions and was mission commander on the Challenger’s previous mission. He spoke on the importance of scientific breakthroughs made possibly by the space program.


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