Unusually, I was in a high school class taking a test instead of sneaking off to watch the launch on TV. I was very plugged in to the shuttle program, the way other kids might follow a sports team.
I first found out when my friends rushed into the dining hall at lunch laughing. "The space shuttle exploded!" and "Your father is a murderer!" I thought it was a cruel joke. I didn't believe them. I took my lunch down to the science building and entered the office between the classrooms where there was a TV set up, where I'd been allowed to watch previous launches. It was on, and tuned to the news, which was rehashing the launch and showing footage of the explosion over and over. Several teachers were there gathered around watching. I watched with them.
I'm tearing up remembering.
There were several years of nightmare about it. I took my peers' teasing to heart. Somehow, I felt a sort of guilt by contagion (Dad never worked on the boosters directly, just the kick motors that popped them off when they were used up, but still, it was a booster that failed, made by the company that he worked for).
The only time I ever saw a shuttle launch in person, it was Challenger. it's a strange irony that the shuttle I've seen the most -- the one that's come here, and I've already seen it four times -- is Endeavour, built to replace Challenger.