Published: Jan 28, 2014 5:19 PM EST

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Twenty-eight years ago today, the nation gasped and then mourned. School children watched teacher Christa McCauliff and six other astronauts lift off from Cape Canaveral...and then the Challenger tragedy shocked the nation.   

WINK News contributor Michael Francis covered the disaster, and helped us remember that fateful journey.

Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnick, Ronald McNair, Alison Onutsuka, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McCauliff had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wished to serve. The members of the Challenger crew were pioneers.

Many here in Southwest Florida saw the smoke in the sky. Michael Francis was standing in the front yard of Challenger pilot Mike Smith's home in Beaufort, North Carolina, waiting to interview a jubilant wife and brother. Instead, Francis saw a shattered family watching the video of the explosion on TV, as it played over and over. They never came out of their house for the interview. Their shock and grief was too intense, and 28 years later, many still mourn the loss.