SCIENCE
01/28/2016 01:09 pm ET Updated Jan 29, 2016

These Are The Most Heartbreaking Images From The Challenger Disaster

Thirty years after the tragedy, images continue to show a nation's grief.

Thirty years ago today, the space shuttle Challenger exploded after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, in an event that was watched the world over. The disaster killed seven crew members including Christa McAuliffe, who hoped to be the first teacher in space. Photojournalists captured the many shocked and heartbreaking reactions of those at NASA and the spectators in the stands near the launch site. 

One truly memorable and tragic photo captured by Jim Cole of The Associated Press shows McAuliffe's mother, father and sister reacting after the launch and before the deadly explosion. 

Jim Cole/The Associated Press
The family of Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was America's first civilian astronaut, react shortly after the liftoff of the space shuttle Challenger at the Kennedy Space Center, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986.

Other images from around the nation show classrooms that were watching the launch. Concord, New Hampshire, McAuliffe's hometown, can be seen in these images honoring her memory after the explosion.

See more images of the reactions below: 

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Jan. 28, 1986.
  • Space Frontiers/Getty Images
    Frederick Gregory, spacecraft communicator at Mission Control in Houston, watches helplessly as the Challenger shuttle explodes on takeoff.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    In this Jan. 28, 1986 file picture, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, react after witnessing the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A third-grade teacher comforts one of her charges as another youngster and a young woman, right, react after seeing the Space Shuttle Challenger explode in midair, killing all aboard, Jan. 28, 1986.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Senior class President Carina Dolcino is stunned by the news that the space shuttle carrying Concord High School teacher Christa McAuliffe exploded after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. A gala celebration had been planned for the launch.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    This Jan. 28, 1986 file picture shows U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House after a televised address to the nation about the space shuttle Challenger explosion. 
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    The American flag in the press site at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, flies at half-mast, Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986, following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger. 
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Kennedy Space Center workers en route to Pad 39B are met by the sight of seven small American flags alongside the road Jan. 30, 1986.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Concord, New Hampshire storeowner Barry Dixon tapes a sign to the outside of his business on Jan. 29, 1986 in tribute to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger who were killed in the explosion, including Concord schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    An estimated crowd of 2,500 people gather at the Statehouse steps in Concord, New Hampshire, Jan. 31, 1986 to participate in a memorial service for Concord High School teacher Christa McAuliffe.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Richard Greene adjusts a letter as he sets up a billboard outside a Concord, New Hampshire motel on Thursday, Jan. 30, 1986. 
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    These drawings were made by two second-grade students in the Eastman School in Concord, New Hampshire on Feb. 1, 1986. The top picture, by Erin Eville shows herself crying with the shuttle overhead. In the bottom picture, Alana Maloney remembers Christa McAuliffe, who was a teacher in Concord.
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    A young girl rubs her eyes during a memorial service for teacher Christa McAuliffe at St. John's the Evangelist Church in her hometown in Concord, New Hampshire, Jan. 29, 1986. 
  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
    Flowers, telegrams, photographs, and a model of the Challenger lie in a display case, Thursday, Jan. 30, 1986, at the Concord High School in New Hampshire in remembrance of Christa McAuliffe.

CORRECTION: A previous Associated Press caption misidentified a photo of McAuliffe's family reacting to the liftoff as a reaction to the explosion.

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