HOUSTON — There were about a dozen of us--visiting reporters and NASA public affairs officers--watching the two big closed-circuit television screens showing the liftoff of Challenger.
There were the usual cheers, ours and those of the technicians and controllers in the nearby command central at Johnson Space Center, for the spectacle of liftoff.
Then, with Challenger rising into the sky, the screens showed a close-up of a large explosion.
"That's the booster," someone near me said.
"God, that was awful big," someone added.
Then, it began to dawn on us that we were seeing triumph turn to tragedy.
"Oh, my God!" exclaimed Billie Dason, one of the NASA public relations people. "Is that booster rocket pieces falling away?"
Another NASA spokeswoman, a veteran of many space shuttle liftoffs, was the first to say it:
"Oh, my God!" she half-cried. "That's the capsule, that's the crew capsule!"
All of us were thinking the unthinkable now.