This photo of the Challenger crew was taken on Jan. 9, 1986, just 19 days before the Challenger disaster. Left to right: 1st Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronaut Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Michael J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.
Image credit: NASA
On January 28, 1986, seven astronauts tragically died when Challenger exploded just after liftoff. It was NASA’s first in-flight disaster and it occurred not only as thousands of spectators watched from Kennedy Space Center but millions of teachers and students were also watching on live T.V. from their classrooms to see Christa McAuliffe, a civilian high school teacher from New Hampshire become NASA’s 1st teacher in space. Christa was scheduled to broadcast two live lessons from space to the nation’s school children just a few days later.
The loss of Challenger was later attributed to a failed seal on one of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. It was determined that cold weather prevented a rubber O-ring from working properly. This allowed hot gas to leak and damage the shuttle’s external fuel tank and the hardware attaching the booster to the shuttle. The right solid rocket booster then separated. The fuel tank broke apart causing the orbiter to be torn apart also. The launch had been postponed two days preceding the disaster due to expected storms preceding the cold front which brought unusually cold temperatures to central Florida.
The following words were left on a handwritten note in the briefcase of Space Shuttle Commander, Dick Scobee. It is from a passage from Vision of the Future by Ben Bova.
We have whole planets to explore. We have new worlds to build. We have a solar system to roam in. And if only a tiny fraction of the human race reaches out toward space, the work they do there will totally change the lives of all the billions of humans who remain on earth, just as the strivings of a handful of colonists in the new world totally changed the lives of everyone in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
That moment 28 years ago today when the seven Challenger astronauts reached out toward space is still ingrained in our memories.