The Challenger disaster was, famously, my generation's Kennedy assassination. We all remember where we were, right? (Probably some older 'codgers' remember where they were, too ;-)
Bizarrely, I was skiing on a little hill called Sundown (Eastern Iowa's ski destination!) near Dubuque, Iowa. It was the eighth grade ski trip. I was 14 years old. Someone said the shuttle had blown up and I thought it was just a joke. I didn't even think it was a 'sick joke' because I didn't give it that much thought. Then I saw the footage on the tv in the bar in the little lodge. Crazy. It was the biggest national tragedy I'd been aware of in my few years. I even wrote a little poem about it called 'Broken Wings' (which, unfortunately, always evokes the Mr Mister song for me. Should've given it a different title).
I've always been excited about the idea of spaceflight. I ask the twins with some regularity if they think they'll ever go to space or the moon. I hope so. Who knows? If I live long enough, maybe even I'll get the chance.
Little did I know in 1986 that NASA either was by then or soon would be really screwed up - not a good hope for getting more of us into space. I'm a much bigger believer in private space travel now. I think the exploration of space is really worthwhile, deserving of a reasonable amount of risk by private citizens in the spirit of exploration and innovation. We just had the X-prize last summer with a great amount of innovation and no fatalities. Here's hoping that it keeps going and that this old man will make it up.