The first launch happened when I was six, and I still remember watching it on TV. My mom was really into it, and so for a while we'd always watch the lift-offs and landings, marveling at this vehicle that could go up like a rocket and come down like a plane. Back then, all the major networks (i.e., all three of them, since Fox didn't exist and CNN and cable TV as a whole were barely off the ground) would stop everything they were doing to show the launches and landings. I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. :) It became more mundane after a while, though: according to Wikipedia, by 1986, CNN was the only network showing shuttle launches live.
Which, of course, was when Challenger happened. I was in fifth grade, and at my school, they didn't tell us until the end of the day, over the intercom. I remember sitting on the bus on the way home and being so confused, because of course the principal wouldn't joke about something like that, but there was no way it could have actually happened. Could it? Then I got home and the news had been on all day, and my mom was crying, and I think it was the first time I realized that
really, really bad things happened sometimes on an unimaginable scale, even to really good people like Christa McAuliffe and the rest of the crew.
So it's obviously something that was woven pretty tightly into my childhood, and I guess that's why seeing the coverage of so many thousands of people coming out to say goodbye is really striking a chord with me (she says while sniffling). Maybe it's also that the whole Shuttle program had a really optimistic patriotism about it that we seem to have lost in the last decade or so, and I feel like we're saying goodbye to not only a vehicle from another era, but that that spirit as well. I don't know. But thanks to katbcoll for giving Endeavour a wave for me. :)