sharon christa mcauliffe

The Challenger Disaster, 30 years later

Please stop in your day and take a moment to remember the Crew of STS-51L, who all perished on this day, January 28, 1986.  Pictured here, the crew pose for their official portrait on November 15, 1985. In the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.  The shuttle they flew was called the Challenger: a challenger was someone who defied expectations, who disputed what could be done or what was known, who attempted a difficult task or problem.  These seven people did not see space as an empty void but rather as the next step in a series of steps ever upward, ad astra.  It was for them not a challenge at all but a privilege to fly, and they did so willingly, hopefully, happily, taking all of our hopes and dreams with them.  I watched this launch live with my high school science teacher Terry Uselton (who had applied for the Teacher in Space program) and remember both the excitement and promise that morning and the horrible aftermath.  

To these seven people and their families, I say thank you for daring to challenge us all with your determination and bravery.  And to the tens of thousands at NASA and its contractors and affiliates around the world, I say thank you for devoting your lives to science to make my life and world better.  And to Terry Uselton, thanks, Teach, I’m still working in my own way on science!

Image courtesy NASA, in the public domain.

Remembering the Challenger Crew

The NASA family lost seven of its own on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, when a booster engine failed, causing the Shuttle Challenger to break apart just 73 seconds after launch. 

In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Image Credit: NASA

Front row from left, Mike Smith, pilot; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist. Back row from left, Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist; Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist.

Sharon Christa McAuliffe received a preview of microgravity during a special flight aboard NASA’s KC-135 “zero gravity” aircraft. A special parabolic pattern flown by the aircraft provides shore periods of weightlessness. These flights are often nicknamed the “vomit comet” because of the nausea that is often induced. McAuliffe represented the Teacher in Space Project aboard the STS 51-L/Challenger when it exploded during take-off on January 28, 1986 and claimed the lives of the crewmembers.

January 28, 1986: Space Shuttle Challenger explodes after liftoff killing all seven astronauts on board. This flight marked the first time a non-government civilian, schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, had flown aboard the Space Shuttle.

Photo: The crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-L pose for their official portrait on November 15, 1985. In the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair. (NASA)