We've seen a lot of retrospectives this week about the space shuttle Challenger disaster 20 years ago. I have only two things to add:
On the day of the disaster, I happened to be sick, and was home from high school. My mother suddenly had to leave (I think one of my siblings had gotten in trouble at school, but I can't actually remember the reason why), so she asked me to babysit for my toddler sister, who was napping anyway.
I recall I was watching TV, and news anchor John Palmer suddenly broke in. He announced that there were reports of a "major malfunction" on the space shuttle Challenger, which he said he was told would be visible on the videotape. From his later reaction, it was clear that he hadn't yet seen the tape.
They ran the film, and given the description of the incident as a "major malfunction" and "visible" I expected something we could see, but not overly dramatic. I kept thinking we would see a trail of smoke coming from the hull of the Challenger. The dramatic explosion that took place made the understatement of "major malfunction" seem like a joke.
The camera cut back to Palmer. He was not looking directly at the camera ... he was instead staring at something (presumably a monitor) a little off to the side. His mouth was slightly open, and there was an awkward second of silence during which he clearly did not know what to say. All he had before him was a script with the phrases "major malfunction," "visible explosion," and "teacher in space," and a videotape that demonstrated the banality of his copy. He stammered for a moment, obviously shaken, and got his footing.
I know that for most people the phrase "major malfunction" recalls a line from Full Metal Jacket, but for me it has a sense that contains an element of ironic understatement.
Incidentally, my sister (not the one from the blog Safari So Goody -- a different one) had woken up by that point. We had conversation a few years back wherein she asked about a memory she had from her childhood where a "spaceship blew up" on the news. The Challenger disaster is apparently one of her earliest memories, though recollected through the filter of a toddler's perceptions.