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MIAMI (CBS4) — A quarter century ago an explosion lit up the Florida sky.

It was on January 28th, 1986 the promise of space exploration seemed as endless as that clear Florida sky under which the space shuttle Challenger launched; 73 seconds later, tragedy struck.

An explosion claimed the lives of the seven astronauts aboard, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.

Now, 25 years later South Floridians are remembering the Challenger disaster.

Ruiz was a fourth grader then. Now she is a school principal. We met her as she kept track of her schoolchildren on a field trip to the Miami Science Museum.

“I do remember everyone watching (at her school), and I think as a child I didn’t exactly understand what was going on,” Ruiz told CBS4’s Michael Williams.

NASA determined that on the bitterly cold launch day a rubber O-ring in one of the shuttle’s twin solid rocket boosters had cracked, allowing a blowtorch hot flame to penetrate the external fuel tank.

The Science Museum’s Bill Dishong is the longtime producer of the Star Gazer program. He was at work on the fateful day of the Challenger tragedy.

Dishong said, “I was walking across the lobby of the museum to watch the launch, and the hot dog man came up and said, ‘Can you believe it? The shuttle just blew up.’ I didn’t believe him. We went up (to the roof) and were able to see the circles of the solid boosters. It was heartbreaking.”

The shuttle program endured a second tragedy when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry in 2003, killing the seven astronauts headed home from a successful mission.

Now, 30 plus years after it began, the aging shuttle program is to be ended for good this year.

The Miami Science Museum’s planetarium manager, Mark Bennett, said, “I wouldn’t be teaching astronomy today if it was not for that (the space program). That is what sparked my interest and drove me to study astronomy and develop my love for space exploration.”


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