One Memorial to the Seven Brave Souls of Challenger
The First Space Shuttle Disaster
January 28, 1986 was an unforgettable day for Americans. Many of us just went to work as usual, perhaps not even thinking about the day's space shuttle launch. After all, by this time the shuttle missions seemed almost routine. This mission had been delayed before, so it wouldn't have surprised anyone if there were yet another delay. The weather in Florida had been unusually cold that year. It was just another weekday morning in America--until it wasn't anymore.
My generation grew up with the space program. We watched live as Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon. We held our breath until Apollo 13 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. And we watched in horror as seven of the best-trained astronauts on Earth died in the line of duty. Years later, we also had to hear the news that the shuttle Columbia had disintegrated--another total loss of a shuttle crew.
(Photos from Wikimedia Commons)
Above is a picture of the Challenger Memorial in Arlington Cemetary.
Those Who Saw Will Never Forget
There is Nothing Routine About Space Flight
Never Take Success for Granted
In my office, we heard the news from a colleague who had taken an early lunch. He came back with a shocked look on his face and told us that "the shuttle blew up." At first I thought I had heard wrong--after all, we Americans had the space flight business well in hand, right?
Without internet or cell phones, those who had not watched the launch live on television soon heard the news from family members at home. We hoped for news that somehow the crew had survived the explosion. We watched on the evening news as the unforgettable launch footage was shown again. Even watching the film, it was hard to believe we had really lost those seven astronauts.
After the initial shock, every American wanted to know how such a disaster could happen. We had the best engineers in the world, so what went wrong? In the following weeks and months information began to come out. The Rogers Commission, tasked with investigating the accident, found one problem was a culture at NASA that allowed certain warnings to be ignored for the sake of avoiding repeated launch delays. Challenger launched after experiencing temperatures well below the temperatures at which key components of the shuttle had been tested. The failure of a single O-ring seal started the chain of events that ended in the breaking apart of the shuttle.
The Last Crew of Challenger - Mission STS 51-L
Back row: Ellison S. Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik
Front row: Michael J. Smith (pilot,) Dick Scobee (commander,) and Ron McNair
This mission was watched live by schoolchildren across America because of Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space Program to go on a shuttle mission. She had a series of lessons prepared that she would have taught from orbit. President Reagan announced the Teacher in Space program in 1984. In 1998 Barbara Morgan, McAuliffe's backup for the Challenger mission, went into space as a Mission Specialist aboard Endeavor.
Learn More about Challenger and Her Crew
- Speeches : Ronald Reagan : Space Shuttle "Challenger" Address
President Reagan honored the Challenger astronauts.
- Ronald E. McNair - Physicist of the African Diaspora
Dr. McNair still serves as a shining example to young people who want to follow him into the STEM professions.
- Christa McAuliffe - Teacher in Space
We will never see the lessons she planned to teach from space.
- Astronaut Biography: Judith A. Resnik, Ph.D.
- Ellison Onizuka: Challenger Center Hawaii
- Astronaut Biography: Gregory Jarvis
- Astronaut Biography: Dick Scobee
- Michael Smith - Challenger Memorial on Sea and Sky