Just 73 seconds after launch on the morning of Jan. 28, 1986, a booster engine failed and caused the Shuttle Challenger to break apart, taking the lives of all seven crewmembers.
President Ronald Reagan eulogized the crew, quoting from the poem "High Flight": "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'"
Thirty years ago today, our country was shaken by the loss of Challenger and with it, the lives of astronauts and payload specialists Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Francis Scobee, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith, and Ellison Onizuka.
For centuries, humankind has looked to the sky to set the stage for a future that redefines our limits and a reality where anything is possible. Reaching for those unbounded heights has been fundamental to developing our national character—helping us find the capacity to lead the human race to the next frontiers of discovery and the wisdom to use that knowledge for the better.
We must never forget the courageous Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice to expand the boundaries of understanding. They knew the risks, and still chose to put their lives on the line so that future generations could lead lives made better by advances in science, technology, and a deeper understanding of our universe and humanity’s place therein. As we honor their legacy and that of every hero who lost their life helping America touch the stars, we remember President Reagan’s words that fateful January day in 1986: “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.
These brave women and men are forever a part of a story that is ongoing. It is a story that will bring human beings to Mars and out into our solar system – and beyond. It is a story made possible by their sacrifice and heroism. May America always carry forward the bravery of those we’ve lost, and may we harness it to make today’s impossibilities tomorrow’s realities.
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 you and I could continue to reach for new heights for the benefit of all humankind.
This year, as we remember all who we lost, we mark a very somber 30-year anniversary – the loss of STS-51L (Challenger) on January 28, 1986.
Some of us who were in the Agency at the time remember, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Mike Smith, Ellison “El” Onizuka, Judith “Judy/JR” Resnik, Ronald “Ron” McNair, Gregory “Greg” Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe as dear friends and colleagues. Others of us might remember watching them prepare for flight with elementary school classmates or with college dorm mates or in kitchens and living rooms with family and friends. Some members of our NASA Family, no doubt, recall watching from the shores of Cape Canaveral.
One thing is for sure – all of us are here today because of their sacrifice and the sacrifice of those who were lost on STS-107 (Columbia) and, decades earlier, in tragedies such as the loss of Apollo-1.
As each of us seek to honor our fallen heroes and friends in our own way – be it in prayer or just silent reflection – I want to remind you that NASA opened a new memorial exhibit at the Kennedy Space Center over this summer called Forever Remembered, and we have videos that were put together to coincide with the opening available on NASA.gov.
Thank you for keeping our fallen colleagues in your hearts and for honoring their legacy every day by your dedication and hard work.
On Jan. 27, 1967, veteran astronaut Gus Grissom, first American spacewalker Ed White, and rookie Roger Chaffee were sitting atop the launch pad for a pre-launch test when a fire broke out in their Apollo capsule.
The investigation into the fatal accident led to major design and engineering changes, making the Apollo spacecraft safer for the coming journeys to the moon.
The seven-member crew of the STS-107 mission was just 16 minutes from landing on the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, when Mission Control lost contact with the shuttle Columbia. A piece of foam, falling from the external tank during launch, had opened a hole in one of the shuttle's wings, leading to the breakup of the orbiter upon re-entry.
Addressing the nation, President Bush said, "mankind is led into the darkness beyond our world by the inspiration of discovery and the longing to understand. Our journey into space will go on."