There are moments in U.S. history where you are asked, “Where were you when?” Unfortunately, several of these events fall into a single week. The loss of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia crews all took place during a one-week period. The crew of Apollo 1 died in a fire at Launch Complex 34 on Jan. 27, 1967, Challenger’s STS-51L crew were lost 73 seconds into their mission on Jan. 28, 1986 and the crew of STS-107, aboard Columbia was lost in the skies above Texas on Feb. 1, 2003.
NASA marked these occasions with a wreath laying ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 27 and a “Day of Remembrance” on Jan. 28. The event was attended by a number of people affected by the Challenger accident attended as did several astronauts and dignitaries. The widow of Challenger’s commander, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Dr. June Scobee-Rodgers and Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana were in attendance.
This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Challenger Disaster and many who were impacted by the events that took place on that cold winter’s day spoke about their perceptions twenty-five years later. Some reflected on how those that lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration.
“Christa confidently and joyfully embraced life, no less than her friends and colleagues on Challenger, and no less than the crews of Columbia, Apollo 1, and all of those people who courageously follow their own paths every day,” said Steven McAuliffe, Christa’s husband, who is now a federal judge. “I know Christa would say that that is the most precious lesson – ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions when they remain true to themselves and enthusiastically pursue their own dreams wherever they may lead. Our family knows that generations of students and teachers will continue to share her love of learning and love of life, and will do great things for our world.”
McAuliffe serves as a Founding Director for Challenger Center for Space Science Education. He has since remarried and has two children.
“We believe Christa would be especially pleased by and proud of the Challenger Center for Space Science Education and its mission. The Challenger Center honors each crew member’s devotion to learning and exploration, touching the lives of over 400,000 students and 40,000 teachers each year. In that way, Challenger Center continues the teaching mission of all the crew members of STS-51-L,” McAuliffe said.
It is largely forgotten that STS-51L was slated to send a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) into orbit. This is because Christa McAuliffe was part of the crew that also consisted of Francis, ‘Dick’ Scobee, Ellison Onizuka, Michael Smith, Judy Resnik, Greg Jarvis and Ronald McNair. McAuliffe was singled out for being a teacher-astronaut and not a normal astronaut (either a military test-pilot or someone having multiple degrees).
“I’ve been overwhelmed by the bravery of the Challenger family members, who took the most painful experience of their lives and created the world’s most engaging educational organization,” said Scott Parazynski M.D. who flew into space five times aboard the shuttle, he now is the President of the Board of Directors with the Challenger Centers. “Our 48 Challenger Learning Centers around the world inspire kids through hands-on exploration throughout the solar system, and we know that for many of them these memories last a lifetime. What a powerful gift to the world, borne out of tragedy…”