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Remembering the Challenger Seven

Posted by Bruce Carroll at 9:13 am - January 28, 2006.
Filed under: American History

It was a cold January morning where I lived twenty years ago. My rural Chester County, Pennsylvania school district had called off the day due to snow. But I also remember how cold it was in the Northeast on January 28, 1986. I had forgotten there was even to be a shuttle mission, nevermind that a teacher was to be on board. So I wound up flipping channels on our cable TV system.

I don’t remember what else was on TV that day, but I do remember coming upon the then-called “Discovery Channel.” There was one of the marvels of modern time sitting on the launch pad in Florida. It was a bright blue sky that framed the live picture of Challenger aimed toward the heavens. I remember thinking to myself…. “oh yeah, the teacher is on this flight…. that must be why the Discovery Channel is showing this launch.” I also thought about the millions of school kids across the USA that were watching the same thing I was at the moment in their classrooms.

Discovery Channel had no commentators on their broadcast, they were merely showing the live feed from NASA with the dialogue between Mission Control and the Challenger Seven. The countdown descended to zero and then the blast of the solid rocket boosters shot flame and smoke across the blue sky canvas and filled my television screen. Launch commentator Hugh Harris, the voice of NASA-TV that day said the words that began the events that linger in our memories today: “Liftoff of the 25th space shuttle mission, and it has cleared the tower.”

I remember marveling at this mechanical beast in its struggle against the force of gravity; slowly rolling and climbing into that rich blue sky. Harris’ voice gave way to Mission Control spokesman Steve Nesbitt in Houston: “Good roll program confirmed. Challenger now heading downrange.” Shortly after, I remember marveling at this sight and wondering almost aloud to myself, “Gosh, I wonder what they would do if this thing blew up.” It is a thought that has repeatedly haunted me for twenty years.

A few moments later, Nesbitt continued marking Challenger’s progress: “Velocity 2,257 feet per second (1,539 mph), altitude 4.3 nautical miles, downrange distance 3 nautical miles…”

And then the words that will forever be etched into my mind and experience as a child of the 1980s. NASA Astronaut Dick Covey at Mission Control says, “Challenger, go at throttle up.” And aboard the soaring spacecraft, Shuttle commander Dick Scobee utters the infamous words, “Roger, go at throttle up.”


A few hours later, President Ronald Reagan tried to console a nation with more famous words of my past. I have always thought this was one of Reagan’s greatest moments at one of America’s lowest.

We’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle. But they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

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.”

-Bruce (GayPatriot)



  1. Bruce… that surely is one of those “where were you when…” moments. I was in college, getting ready for the spring semester, when a friend, on the phone with his parents, yelled “Holy Shit… the Space Shuttle just blew up!” We, of course, turned on the TV and 6 of us all gasped and cried. I also remember RR’s speech, and even though I was not a huge supporter, I was impressed and proud to have such a leader to console the grieving American people.

    Definately one of the saddest, but also one of the proudest, I ever was to be an American!

    p.s. On a lighter note… I can’t believe college was 20 years ago!

    Comment by Jim — January 28, 2006 @ 10:16 am - January 28, 2006

  2. I was sitting in a PhD seminar. Cough, cough. My wheelchair and hearing aids, please.

    Comment by rightwingprof — January 28, 2006 @ 2:34 pm - January 28, 2006

  3. AFN (Armed Forces Network) played the Today Show at 4 in the afternoon and I was watching Jane Pauley interview Pat Benatar. Naturally, I was not too happy when they interrupted for the launch.

    On a silver lining note: today is my sister’s b-day and I never have trouble remembering the date.

    Comment by cbi — January 28, 2006 @ 4:36 pm - January 28, 2006

  4. Strangely morbid thought to have, but on a different note, I recall that like it was yesterday. It was freezing in CNY; I was laying on my bed waiting for the rest of my wing to return to Brew 12 before heading off to lunch. We were just stunned.

    Comment by ralph — January 28, 2006 @ 5:25 pm - January 28, 2006

  5. I was getting ready for school (6th grade) when mom shouted that the shuttle had exploded. I turned on the TV and watched as much as I could. I had a little toy shuttle that I took with me and kept on my desk for a day or so.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — January 28, 2006 @ 7:03 pm - January 28, 2006

  6. I was in charge of an Air Force museum and we had just opened a visitng Smithsonian exhibit on American space missions. We immediately inserted a section commemorating the Challengerr astronauts, including individual photos of each member of the crew. I will never forget how solemn otherwise unruly school children became as thousands of them reached that part of the exhibit.

    Bruce, you have posted a very moving and very appropriate tribute to a crew of brave Americans.

    Comment by Jack Allen — January 28, 2006 @ 10:39 pm - January 28, 2006

  7. I was in college too, listening to the radio while getting ready for class since I didn’t have a television. All of a sudden the announcer went silent. The silence stretched. I don’t remember what he said when he started talking except that it was very bald. It blew up. It blew up.

    I went to class… most of the other students hadn’t heard anything about it.

    My husband was in AF basic training. For some reason he was standing in line at Squadron HQ and they had the launch on a television there, so he saw it.

    And yeah… it does make a person feel rather old.

    Comment by Synova — January 28, 2006 @ 11:24 pm - January 28, 2006

  8. I missed the explosion, the speech etc. I was out on a weekly patrol / exercise and we were delayed for a day while at sea. My memory of the occasion is as we were pulling into port getting ready to tie up next to the tender the announcement was made that the shuttle had exploded the day before.

    Comment by wayne — January 29, 2006 @ 1:48 am - January 29, 2006

  9. I didn’t miss the explosion. I was in San Francisco taking depositions. I watched the lift-off and listened to the commentary from NASA control before going out. Shortly after lift-off it became clear that the commentary had significantly diverged from what we were seeing on the screen. And I had watched almost all shuttle lift-offs–as well as all earlier lift-offs, as well as the original touch-down on the moon.

    What I was surprised at, was that so few people at the deposition site seemed to have been aware of the Challenger explosion.

    What I was also surprised at was the methodical analysis from Richard Feynman, one of the members of the board that was examining the cause of the tragedy. I should not have been surprised. One of his last public interviews, broadcast on NOVA was one of their best programs.

    BTW, regarding “where were you when”, I remember precisely where I was when it was announced over the school intercom that JFK had been assasssinated in 1963. And I was 13 years old at the time.

    Comment by raj — January 29, 2006 @ 8:13 am - January 29, 2006

  10. I, too, remembered it like it was yesterday. I was working for US Cong Robert Walker (PA 16) who was a member of the committee that oversaw NASA. Later in that decade, I had the priviledge of being at a night launch.
    But when Challenger exploded, I was at work in a small place in Chester County PA hearing it on a scratchy radio and having phones start ringing off the hook for the rest of that day.
    It seemed I was always at work when moments happened that changed the course of life….Pa Senator John Heinz’s crash which ended a chance for his race for the Presidency.

    Comment by PatriotMom — January 29, 2006 @ 8:20 am - January 29, 2006

  11. Good information on this blog and I tend to agree with the majority of the comments. I also like the layout and template you chose. That of course is just me thinking outloud

    Comment by refurbished notebook computers — March 28, 2006 @ 11:12 pm - March 28, 2006

  12. Nice site I found … Plan on coming back later to spend a little time there.

    Comment by Breast Enlargement — October 20, 2006 @ 2:25 am - October 20, 2006

  13. May the Challenger 7 rest in peace. They ARE ALL HEROS!!!

    Comment by Kayla — October 24, 2006 @ 12:13 pm - October 24, 2006

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