East Texans remember Challenger, 25 years later

By Jena Johnson - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) – It's one of the few days that most Americans can recall what they were doing at an exact moment, 25 years ago.

Millions were watching when space shuttle Challenger exploded, moments after take-off.

For those who watched as shuttle Challenger launched into the sky, what happened 73 seconds later was heartbreaking.

"It was just unbelievable and then when they kept replaying it and replaying it, it came to a point where I couldn't watch it anymore," says Marilyn Noel.

A family member of Noel's worked at NASA during the explosion. She remembers those exciting moments leading up to lift-off quickly turning to a devastating conversation.

"She told us it was going up and so we watched it and it was just horrific," recalled Noel.

A year after that devastating day, Jamie Wyers joined NASA as a control room technician, "Almost everybody I worked with was there during the Challenger. A lot of people were there during the Apollo fire and I've heard a lot of stories. Some I can't really talk about, but it was very bad."

Wyers says the tragedy changed how NASA handled and perceived shuttle launches, "Before Challenger, it was just a launch. It was more routine. After Challenger, everybody paid lots more attention to details."

"I think it became much more specific, your job duties, you do this and nothing else," said Wyers.

Years after shuttle Challenger, Dr. Gray Deboer worked in a fellowship program at NASA. Like Wyers, he witnessed a total transformation, "NASA was trying to sell it as a routine thing. In fact, they even out the teacher on the shuttle, this is such a safe thing we can put civilians on here."

But there was nothing routine about shuttle Challenger, and 25 years later, East Texans remember that.

The Challenger mission was the first time a civilian was included on the flight crew.

Christa McAuliffe was selected out of more than 11,000 teachers to take part in the "Teachers in Space Project."

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