Remembering the Challenger

Hi, everyone. On January 28, 1986, 31 years ago today, the Space Shuttle Challenger, flying as STS-51L with its seven astronauts, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe suffered a terrible disaster 73 seconds after liftoff, and the crew was lost. This was the second time a crewed NASA mission mission ended in disaster.

Challenger flight 51-l crew.jpg
STS-51-L crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik. By NASA – NASA Human Space Flight Gallery (image link), Public Domain, Link

Payload Specialist McAuliffe, a teacher, was to be the first civilian to fly in space. I remember learning about the plan to choose a teacher, learning about her and following her astronaut training. I happened to be home from school, a snow day, the day of the launch and still have very clear memories of images of something going wrong on live TV. It was a frightening moment; seeing something terrible happen, but having no way to even say what it was.

The disaster grounded the space shuttle for about two years while the disaster was investigated and NASA redesigned the solid rocket boosters. The boosters’ O-rings, which were used to seal the boosters’ sections, failed on the unusually cold launch day.

It’s amazing how often the shuttles were flying in those days. It was about five years into the Shuttle program, and the previous launch was just two weeks earlier. It’s amazing to think that the program was operating so well that they could prepare for and launch again so quickly. It’s that feeling of invincibility, that hubris, that was given part of the blame for the disaster, though.

Thanks for taking some time today to remember this mission. Do you have any memories of your own from that day?




3 thoughts on “Remembering the Challenger

  1. I was too young. But alongside the same moment, when 9/11 occurred, I was in the 7th/8th grade, and remembering pretty much every halting and everyone watching tv. I wanted to continue working on my car in woodshop class (shows how I handle things).
    Have you ever been to the McAuliffe Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, NH? They have such nice exhibits in honor of the two astronauts, it’s a relatively large place so there’s much, much more. And of course, a planetarium.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s hard to process huge, enormous things like that. I was living in New York on September 11, and remember, many moments of how my day went, but I also remember very much, at different points thinking something like “okay, this is the end of the story” and wanting to sort of move along. Then at some point it became very clear it wasn’t over. It’s a very strange experience being among, but not part of, very big news.

    No, I haven’t been to the McAuliffe Center, though I’d like to. I’ve heard lots of great things about it. I’m hoping to be up thataways next summer, so maybe I’ll force my family to spend a gorgeous summer evening inside staring at simulated stars. 🙂


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