30 years ago today at 11:39 AM we lost seven astronauts in the Challenger disaster. We lost Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.
Electrical engineer Judith Resnik was picked to be an astronaut in 1978. She trained for six years before her first flight, at which time she became only the second American woman in space. In high school, she was the sole female on her high school math team, and she was the only female out of 16 students to achieve perfect scores on the SATs. As a classical pianist, she once said, “I never play anything softly.”
Social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe’s “infectious enthusiasm” helped her stand out among a crowd of 11,000 applicants hoping to be part of NASA’s Teacher in Space Project. She planned to conduct experiments and teach lessons from space in order to engage students in space exploration.
The disaster may have grounded the space program for almost three years, but what emerged as the Challenger’s legacy is strong. Engineers had raised concerns about safety issues before the launch, and NASA, acknowledging that the disaster was preventable, set about to change its culture. NASA also made over a hundred changes to the shuttle to make it safer.
Crew families came together to establish the Challenger Center. One of the first STEM outreach programs in the US, the center continues the Challenger mission – engaging and inspiring students in STEM.
You may be young enough that you have only heard about this day in history, or you may be one of so many students who sat with excitement waiting to watch the launch on television.
Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, a young Peggy Noonan, would write an emotional speech that would resonate with an entire country that evening. The speech ended with quotes from the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, a 19 year old airman who died in World War II:
“The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by 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 waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”