Every year at this time, we take a moment to reflect as the NASA Family on the very broad shoulders on which we stand: the shoulders of those women and men of NASA who gave their lives so that we could continue to reach for new heights for the benefit of all humankind.
To honor our fallen heroes and friends, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Deputy Administrator Dava Newman spoke at a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, at the grave sites of the fallen crew.
The crew aboard the International Space Station also payed tribute with a moment of silence.
President Barack Obama recognized the day with the release of an official statement that honors the legacy of the heroes who lost their lives helping America touch the stars.
To view the President’s full statement, visit HERE.
Thirty years ago today, at 11:38 a.m. EST, January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger
lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Christa McAuliffe, teacher from New
Hampshire, was to be the first ordinary U.S. civilian to travel into space. Challenger‘s
launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and
technical problems. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle lifted off.
73 seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including
Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle exploded in a
forking plume of smoke and fire, killing all seven crew members. Millions more watched the heart-wrenching
tragedy unfold on live television.
“The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted. It belongs to the brave.” President Reagan said. “The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.”
On this day in 1986, the US space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its tenth flight, resulting in the deaths of all seven
crew members. The craft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean due to
technical malfunction. The crew compartment and various fragments were recovered from the ocean floor, and several of the crew are known to have survived the initial breakup and died upon impact with the ocean surface. The tragedy occurred the same day as President Ronald Reagan was
due to give his annual State of the Union address, but he postponed the speech
and instead gave a national address on the Challenger disaster. Reagan quoted the poem ‘High Flight’ by American Second World War pilot John Gillespie Magee Jr in a speech which is still regarded as one of his most memorable.
“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them,
this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and
‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to 'touch the face of God.’”
Thirty years ago on January 28, 1986, seven astronauts–including teacher Christa McAuliffe–lost their lives after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during liftoff.
The inclusion of a teacher, who would become the first private citizen in space, made the Space Shuttle Challenger mission especially exciting. This was the U.S. Government’s twenty-fifth space shuttle mission, twenty-four of which had been completed successfully.
In August 1984, President Reagan announced @nasa‘s new “Teacher in Space Project,” which was a part of NASA’s Space Flight Participant Program, an education and outreach initiative. The application process was demanding and lengthy.
Out of over 11,000 applications, state, territorial and agency review panels each selected two nominees. A total of 114 nominees then participated in June 1985 in a week-long conference on various aspects of space education in Washington, DC. Ten teachers were selected through a national review process to continue on to the next step.
306-PSF-85-2488c: Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a 36 year old mother of two was chosen from a field of some 10,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. A Social Studies Instructor at Concord High School in New Hampshire, she flew aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in January 1986. Behind her, in the airplane, are some of the 10 finalists who joined her in testing for the assignment. The teacher-in-space program resulted from a campaign pledge made by President Ronald Reagan during the election campaign of 1984.
In July 1985, at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, the ten finalists participated in thorough medical examinations and briefings about space flights. A NASA evaluation committee made up of senior NASA officials conducted further interviews with each teacher. This committee then made recommendations to the NASA Administrator, who made the final selection of two teachers.
The primary participant was Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher from Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire. Years earlier, McAuliffe had been excited about the Apollo moon landing program. In her astronaut application she wrote, “I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate.” The back-up was Barbara Morgan, a teacher from McCall-Donnelly Elementary School in McCall, Idaho.
Video footage documented McAuliffe and Morgan’s training at the Johnson Space Center. The Teacher in Space Project required that two classroom lessons be taught in space, and preparing the lesson plans also was documented. Finding aids for the records provide detailed descriptions of the film clips and are available in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Research Room at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
255 STS-13778 (Teacher Training: Meeting)
255-STS-113910 (Teacher Training: Space Station Briefing)
The seven-member crew of the Challenger Shuttle was surprisingly diverse. They were American men and women of Asian, African, and European ancestry from across the United States, including Hawaii.
Photographs available in the Still Picture Research Room include images of the individual crew members, the shuttle craft, the explosion during the launch on January 28, 1986, the recovery mission, and the members of The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The National Archives expects to receive many more records from NASA in the near future.
255-CB-86-H-56: Space Shuttle Challenger atop Crawlex Transporter on its Way to Pad B, Launch Complex 39, at the Kennedy Space Center.
While the Teacher in Space Project ended following the Challenger Shuttle accident, NASA’s work with teachers has continued through its Educator Astronaut Project. The main difference is that teachers selected for the Educator Astronaut Project are required to leave their teaching careers and are trained to serve as part of NASA’s Astronaut corps. With their classroom experience, these educator astronauts explore new ways to connect space programs with classrooms.
On August 8, 2007, Barbara Morgan, who was the backup teacher for the Challenger Shuttle mission, became NASA’s first Educator Astronaut. She was assigned to the crew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The Challenger crew’s spirit of adventure and love of exploration and learning clearly lives on.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) holds millions of photographs, motion pictures, audio-visuals, and cartographic records–special media–created by federal government agencies. The majority of the special media are preserved and made available at Archives II, the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland. Some of these holdings are also available online at archives.gov anddocsteach.org.
Federal government agencies send their permanently valuable records to NARA after an agreed-upon time so they may be preserved and made available to the public. Special media records related to the Space Shuttle Challenger can be found in the records of:
For textual records related to the Space Shuttle Challenger, check archives.gov and National Archives facilities in College Park, MD, Philadelphia, PA, Atlanta, GA and Fort Worth, TX, as well as the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Many thanks to volunteers Harry Kidd who scanned records for this post, and Jan Hodgesand Jim Tomney who described them for the online Catalog. Much appreciation to Special Media staff Billy Wade, Carol Swain, and Audrey Amidon.