25 years after Challenger, where is the space program?

Friday marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger explosion.

FOX 31 spoke with Southwest Georgians about where they were on that fateful day and with experts about the current state of America's space program.

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of god," said President Ronald Reagan on January 28th, 1986.

On that date, hundreds of spectators on the ground and millions more at home watch as Challenger explodes 73 seconds after takeoff.

Phyllis Broome was there that day. "It was undesricable," said Broome. "The emotions that were going through me, knowing that the loss of life â" it was really sad."

All seven crew members were killed, including 38-year-old Christa McAuliffe, who was to have been the first teacher in space.

Kathy Thornton watched the tragic event on a television in her elementary school classroom. "I just remember the teachers telling us about the space shuttle and teachers crying and us watching and coming home watching it," said Broome.

25 years later, Allison Young, program coordinator for Thronateeska Heritage Center and its Air and Space exhibit, says the disaster reminded Americans of the dangers inherent in space travel. "It just makes it more real, not quite as glamorous as people originally thought because you are taking your life into your own hands when you go out into outer space," said Young.

The space shuttle program has basically been in limbo the last several years. The few space missions that have launched have been un-manned and mainly controlled by computers. That approach may be safer but experts at Thronateeska say the human element is too valuable to lose.

"Humans are able to perform so many more experiments than machines ever can," said Young. "You're able to make immediate decisions. You don't have to rely on remote control. You're not limited to that little camera view."

Returning to space will depend on finding new ways to do it and new ways to pay for it.

"Technology just needs to catch up with the times," said Young. "They need come up with better plans for that and also funding. Obviously, with the way the nation is now, there are better ways to be spending the money."