In 1986 I was a sophomore in high school on my way to second period when I heard something had gone wrong with the launch of Space Shuttle Challenger. Immediately I ran to the A/V room of the library, normally off limits to students but my friend Mitch ran the school's BBS and so he had elite access.
I spent most of the day in that room, ignoring the bells for the next class, and the classes after that. I only left to prepare for the buss ride home and once I arrived, turned on the TV to see if they had rescued the crew.
The sharpest difference between then and now is that back in '86 everyone, including the news anchors, kept hope for a miracle. Everyone wanted to believe that somehow the astronauts had lived, that the cabin compartment had somehow broken away and landed safely. There were reports and speculation, expert commentary on the possibility of rescue.
But this morning, in front of an educated and experienced audience, the hope for a miracle was gone. It wasn't even discussed. The imagery of the Space Shuttle Columbia breaking apart at Mach 18 was enough for everyone to know that it was over and 'recovery' crews would only be picking up pieces and fragments.
I would like to think that we haven't lost our will to hope or our willingness to believe in a miracle, but after everything our country has been through, live on television, in the last twenty years it would seem that there is little time for hope and no more belief in miracles.