On January 28, 1986, Americans across the country took a break from their work, or from class, and found their way to a television to watch the space shuttle Challenger take off from Cape Canaveral.
Seventy-three seconds later, the nation gave a united gasp as the shuttle exploded like firework across the bright blue sky – killing all seven crew members on board.
Today, on the 30th anniversary of the disaster, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden paid tribute to the fallen astronauts by placing a wreath at their memorial in Arlington National Cemetery.
And at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida., family members of the doomed shuttle gathered to pay tribute to the brave explorers lost in the explosion.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, and NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, right, take part in a ‘Day of Remembrance’ ceremony to pay tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia at Arlington National Cemetery on January 28, 2016 in Washington, DC
Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Above, Bolden and Newman laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier during the memorial day
Members of the “Old Guard” take part in a changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery January 28, 2016 in Washington, DC
Bolden boys his head as he stands next to the memorial for the crew of the Challenger space shuttle on Thursday in Arlington National Cemetery
Rick Varner, director of the Scobee Education Center at San Antonio College, places a wreath at the Challenger Memorial Garden during a ceremony to honor the lives of the seven crew members of the shuttle on Thursday
Visitors to the Scobee Education Center at San Antonio College view art work displayed to honor the lives of the seven crew members of Challenger shuttle flight STS-51L on the 30th anniversary of the 1986 tragedy, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Bob Kelley shows a video at the Scobee Education Center planetarium at San Antonio College following a ceremony to honor the lives of the seven crew members of Challenger shuttle flight STS-51L on the 30th anniversary of the 1986 tragedy, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
WHAT CAUSED THE CHALLENGER DISASTER?
On January 28, 1986, shortly before noon, the space shuttle challenger launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The shuttle was taking five crew, an engineer and a school teacher in space.
The launch was highly publicized due to the fact that New Hampshire high school teacher Christa McAuliffe was to become the first teacher in space.
But just 73 seconds after the launch, the shuttle exploded in the sky making a trail of smoke into the ocean.
NASA later blamed the deadly launch on unusually cold weather in Florida which led to the shuttle’s booster rocket O-ring seals to become stiff, causing a leak.
Unlike in previous years, the widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee will not be addressing the group.
Instead, June Scobee Rodgers is passing the torch to her daughter Kathie Scobee Fulgham, heralding in a second generation of survivors who will be the new custodians to the crew’s legacy.
Also making a rare appearance at the ceremony is schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe’s son, Scott, with his own own family. McAuliffe was chosen from 10,000 candidates to be the first schoolteacher to visit space, and when she died on that January day, she left behind a husband, a son and a daughter.
‘It’s going to be wonderful to watch the pages turn,’ Rodgers said earlier this week. The second generation ‘can now speak for our family and speak for the nation,’ she said, adding that she’s looking forward to these grown astronauts’ children ‘sharing their stories, their beliefs and their leadership.’
For the seven astronauts’ loved ones, January 28, 1986, remains fresh in their minds.
Steven McAuliffe, a federal judge in Concord, New Hampshire, still declines interviews about his late wife Christa, who was poised to become the first schoolteacher in space.
But he noted in a statement that although 30 years have passed, ‘Challenger will always be an event that occurred just recently. Our thoughts and memories of Christa will always be fresh and comforting.’
McAuliffe said he’s pleased ‘Christa’s goals have been largely accomplished in that she has inspired generations of classroom teachers and students.’ She would be proud, he noted, of the Challenger Learning Centers.
Thursday marks the 30th anniversary of the Challenger space shuttle explosion. Above, the six astronauts and school teacher who were killed in the disaster. Front row from left are Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, and Ronald E. McNair. Back row from left are Ellison Onizuka, school teacher Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik
In this series of photos taken on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger is seen exploding in the sky just 73 seconds after take-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida while a family from Michigan watches from Shepard Park in Cocoa Beach
Unusually cold weather the morning of the launch left Challenger’s booster rockets with stiff O-ring seals; a leak in the right booster doomed the ship. Above, the Challenger during take-off
After the shuttle exploded, Stephen A. Nesbitt at ground control remarked: ‘Obviously a major malfunction. We have no downlink.’
In this January 27, 1986 file picture, the crew members of space shuttle Challenger , leave their quarters for the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. From foreground are commander Francis Scobee, Mission Spl. Judith Resnik, Mission Spl. Ronald McNair, Payload Spl. Gregory Jarvis, Mission Spl. Ellison Onizuka, teacher Christa McAuliffe and pilot Michael Smith
In this January 28, 1986 file picture, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida react after they witnessed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger
McAuliffe is presiding over a trial this week in Concord, and so son Scott will represent the family, part of the next-generation shift. Scott and his sister are now in their 30s and have followed in their mother’s footsteps to become teachers as well. The McAuliffes normally do not take part in these NASA memorials, so Scott’s presence is especially noteworthy.
Along with the other Challenger families, Rodgers established the Challenger Center for Space Science Education just three months after the shuttle disintegrated in the Florida sky. Unusually cold weather that morning left Challenger’s booster rockets with stiff O-ring seals; a leak in the right booster doomed the ship.
Today, there are more than 40 Challenger Learning Centers focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, mostly in the U.S. More are being built.
‘THE FUTURE DOESN’T BELONG TO THE FAINTHEARTED’: RONALD REAGAN COMFORTED A NATION AFTER CHALLENGER DISASTER
One of the defining moments of Ronald Reagan’s presidency was when he addressed the nation after the Challenger disaster, postponing the State of the Union address he was set to give that night.
Instead, he paid tribute to the seven heroes, calling the explosion ‘a national loss’.
Knowing that Americans young and old watched the failed launch, Reagan took part of his speech to directly address the nation’s children.
‘I know it’s hard to understand but sometimes painful things like this happen.
‘It’s part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons.
‘The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted, it belongs to the brave. The challenger crew was pulling us into the future and we will continue to follow them,’ Reagan said.
After the disaster, then-President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation from the White House (pictured above)
He then went on to say that the disaster would not bring an end to space exploration.
‘Nothing ends here. Our hopes and our journeys continue.’
Reagan finished his moving speech by drawing a comparison to the crew, and the English explorer Sir Francis Drake, who died at sea, mapping the world.
‘Today we can say of the Challenger crew, their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete
‘The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us with the manner in which they lived their lives
‘We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them – this morning – as they prepared for their journey and waived goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.’
‘They’re not just a field trip for kids. They’re actually lessons learned,’ said Rodgers, an educator who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. ‘That’s why they’ve lasted.’
McAuliffe’s backup, Barbara Morgan, a schoolteacher from Idaho, rocketed into orbit in 2007 aboard Endeavour as a fully-trained astronaut. Morgan was invited to speak Thursday at Rodgers’ request.
Besides Dick Scobee and Christa McAuliffe, the Challenger dead include pilot Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Gregory Jarvis.
Seven more shuttle astronauts died February 1, 2003, aboard Columbia; that commander’s widow, Evelyn Husband Thompson, will attend Thursday’s ceremony.
The event will honor the Columbia Seven as well, along with the three Apollo 1 astronauts killed during a launch pad test on January 27, 1967. NASA also plans observances at Arlington National cemetery, Johnson Space Center in Houston and elsewhere.
At Kennedy, the Scobee contingent will number 12, including June’s son Richard, a major general in the Air Force, and a 16-year-old granddaughter.
Dick Scobee was 46 years old when he died aboard Challenger barely a minute into the flight. Both his children are now in their 50s.
‘For so many people, 30 years, it’s definitely history. It’s in the history books,’ Rodgers said. For the family, ‘it’s like it’s just happened, which in a way keeps Dick Scobee young in our hearts, and the joy and excitement he had for flying.’
In this January 28, 1986 photo provided by NASA shows icicles on hand rails of the space shuttle Challenger’s service structure on the morning of its final launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida