Hellova ride NASA. I watched Young and Crippen climb into the first one on TV, not know if they'd live to tell about it. There was no unmanned test flight, they were it. Huge conjones those two. The landing looking like a DC-9 coming in from Cleveland. A proud moment for everyone.
I was a young machinist in LA, just about to transition into the Quality job, and the last thing I did was these weird chunks of stainless steel. I didn't know what they were for, but I found out they were supposed to fly. On the first satellite rescue mission, the first time something from orbit was salvaged and brought back to earth, there were my chunks, the attach points for the cradle for the satellite. I was never prouder.
I watched Challenger's fireball driving down Semoran Blvd. in Orlando. I went home to 4 little girls who asked why the teacher died. Daddy didn't have any answers that day.
I spent 6 months afterwords working on Strut Parts as an inspector. I was assigned a part that had it flown, they would have lost another shuttle. They guy from the Cape had to be helped back to his car after we showed him. They got a lot more serious about safety after that.
I was gaming on line with a bunch of guys in Teamspeak when the guy from Dallas shouted 'WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!!'. He described a sonic boom. We put 2+2 together and figured out another shuttle was in trouble, it should have been 40 miles up over Dallas that day, it was less than 10. 10 minutes later, NBC announced.
Still a magnificent achievement NASA.