Today marks the 30th anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven crewmembers in the skies over Florida. As the world memorializes the tragic event of January 28, 1986, we pause to honor the Challenger crew and the reasons they chose to fly aboard Challenger thirty year ago today.
The Space Shuttle Program allowed more people to venture into space than any other program was capable of. It furthered our ability to maintain a permanent, international human presence in space.
But above all, it enabled steady, progressive, and sometimes huge advancements in scientific, medical, astrophysical, and educational knowledge.
For the seven crewmembers of STS-51L and the Shuttle Challenger, this was the reason they flew. This was the cause for which they all climbed aboard Challenger.
STS-51L was, after numerous manifest realignments, the 25th flight of the Space Shuttle Program and the 10th flight of Orbiter Challenger.
Like many missions before it, STS-51L was a multi-disciplinary flight, designed to conduct astrophysical, biomedical, educational experiments and deploy two satellites (one permanent, one recapture) over the course of a seven flight day (six calendar day) mission.
Unique to STS-51L, however, was the planned first-ever direct human observations of Halley’s comet from space.
Like all Shuttle missions, STS-51L was tightly choreographed to maximize the efficiency of its mission objectives while ensuring that all critical operations which required direct communication with the ground were performed during active comm passes.
Following liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center, Flight Day 1 (FD-1) was scheduled to see the STS-51L crew arrive in orbit and immediately begin two periods of scheduled high activity.
First, the crew was to check the readiness of the TDRS-B (Tracking and Data Relay Satellite – B) communications satellite inside the Shuttle’s payload bay.
This would have been followed by lunch and then deployment of TDRS-B and its Inertial Upper Stage booster.
The crew was then scheduled to perform a series of separation maneuvers from TDRS-B followed by the commencement of the first sleep period about 12 hours after liftoff.
On FD-2, the Comet Halley Active Monitoring Program (CHAMP) experiment was scheduled to begin.
The crew was also scheduled to tape the initial “teacher in space” recordings before firing the orbital maneuvering engines to place their Shuttle orbiter into the correct 152-mile orbital altitude from which the SPARTAN-203 satellite would be deployed the next day.
FD-3 was then to see the crew begin pre-deployment preparations on the SPARTAN-203 satellite (also called the Halley’s Comet Experiment Deployable).
SPARTAN-203 was scheduled to be deployed using the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm, after which the crew would back their Shuttle Orbiter away from SPARTAN to a distance of 90 miles.
On Flight Day 4, the crew was then to begin closing the distance between the Shuttle and SPARTAN-203 while fluid dynamics experiments, started on FDs 2 and 3, continued on the mid-deck.
Live telecasts were also planned with numerous schools around the United States for FD-4.
FD-5 was subsequently scheduled to have the crew rendezvous with SPARTAN, grab it with the RMS, and stow it safely in their Shuttle’s payload bay.
This was to occur simultaneous to the continuation of numerous experiments on the mid-deck.
On Flight Day 6, the crew was scheduled to spend the majority of their day closing out the various experiments on the mid-deck while at the same time running through a series of re-entry preparations, including flight control checks, test firings of maneuvering jets needed for re-entry, and cabin stowage.
Crew news conferences were scheduled following the lunch period.
Then, on FD-7, assuming good weather at Kennedy, the crew was to make final preparations for deorbit and entry into the atmosphere.
After a successful mission, the STS-51L crew was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center 144 hours and 34 minutes (six days and thirty-four minutes) after launch.
With this mission framework, STS-51L needed a seven-member crew.
Ultimately, veteran Shuttle astronaut Lt. Col. Francis R. Scobee was selected to command the mission, with rookie Capt. Michael J. Smith chosen as pilot.
Veteran fliers Dr. Judith A. Resnik, Dr. Ronald E. McNair, and Lt. Col. Ellison S. Onizuka were selected as mission specialists.
Also ultimately selected for the flight were Capt. Gregory Jarvis and civilian teacher S. Christa McAuliffe – both to serve as payload specialists.
Honoring The Crew:
Francis R. “Dick” Scobee (Lt. Col., U.S. Air Force, Ret.)
Francis R. Scobee was born on 19 May 1939 in Cle Elum, Washington.
Together, Scobee and his wife, June, had two children – Kathie R. (Scobee) Fulgham and Major General Richard W. Scobee.
Scobee enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in 1957 and trained as a reciprocating engine mechanic before being stationed at Kelly Air Force Base, Texas.
There, Scobee acquired two years of college credit, which led to his selection for the Airman’s Education and Commissioning Program. He then graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor of science in Aerospace Engineering in 1965.
Thereafter, Scobee received his commission in the USAF and received his wings a year later in 1966.
He went on to complete a combat tour in Vietnam before attending the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, after which he participated in test programs for varied aircraft, including the Boeing 747, the X-24B, the transonic aircraft technology F-111, and the C-5.
In 1977, Scobee applied for the astronaut corps having logged more than 6,500 hours flying time in 45 types of aircraft.
NASA officially selected Scobee as an astronaut candidate in January 1978, and he began a one-year training and evaluation period in August 1978.
After completing training in 1979, Scobee was assigned as an instructor pilot on NASA’s Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft for three years before he was assigned as Pilot of the STS-41C mission of the Shuttle Challenger.
STS-41C launched from the Kennedy Space Center on 6 April 1984.
Seven days later, Scobee helped guide the Challenger to a safe landing at Edwards Air Force Base on 13 April 1984.
During STS-41C, Scobee logged 168 hours in space.
A year later, Scobee was selected for his second spaceflight and was assigned as Commander of STS-51L.
During his life, Scobee was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, Tau Beta Pi, the Experimental Aircraft Association, and the Air Force Association.
He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and other decorations during his time with the USAF.
He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with his fellow Challenger crewmembers.
Michael J. Smith (Captain, USN)
Michael Smith was born on 30 April 1945 in Beaufort, North Carolina, and earned a bachelor of science in Naval Science from the United States Naval Academy in 1967 and a master of science in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1968.
After completing Navy aviation jet training, Smith received his aviator wings in May 1969 and was assigned to the Advanced Jet Training Command where he served as an instructor until March 1971.
From 1971 to 1973, Smith flew A-6 Intruders and completed a Vietnam cruise while assigned to Attack Squadron 52 aboard the USS Kitty Hawk.
In 1974, Smith completed U.S. Navy Test Pilot School and was assigned to the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate.
Smith then returned to the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in 1976 and completed an 18-month tour as an instructor, after which he served as maintenance and operations officer while completing two Mediterranean deployments aboard the USS Saratoga.
Over the course of his Navy career, Smith flew 28 different types of civilian and military aircraft, logging over 4,867 hours of flying time.
Smith applied to NASA’s astronaut corps in 1979 and was selected for astronaut candidate training in May 1980.
After completing a one-year training and evaluation program, Smith served as a commander in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory, as Deputy Chief of Aircraft Operations Division, as Technical Assistant to the Director, Flight Operations Directorate, and was assigned to the Astronaut Office Development and Test Group.
In 1985, Smith was selected for his first Space Shuttle mission and was assigned as Pilot to STS-51L.
During training for STS-51L, Smith was also earmarked to serve as Pilot on STS-61I, then scheduled for autumn 1986.
At the time of STS-51L’s launch, Smith and his wife, Jane, had three children.
During his life, Smith was awarded the Navy Distinguished Flying Cross, three Air Medals, 13 Strike Flight Air Medals, the Navy Commendation Medal with “V”, the Navy Unit Citation, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star.
He was posthumously awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal as well as the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with his fellow Challenger crewmembers.
Ellison S. Onizuka (Colonel, USAF)
Ellison Onizuka was born on 24 June 1946 in Kealakekua, Hawaii, and married Lorna Leiko Yoshida in 1969, with whom he had two children.
He earned both a bachelor and master of science degrees in Aerospace Engineering in 1969 from the University of Colorado before beginning active duty with the USAF in January 1970, serving as an aerospace flight test engineer where he participated in flight test programs and systems safety engineering for multiple aircraft.
In 1974, Onizuka attended the USAF Test Pilot School, graduating in July 1975 and subsequently being assigned to the USAF Flight Test Center where he served on the Test Pilot School staff – first as a squadron flight test engineer and later as chief of engineering support in the training resources branch.
Onizuka then applied for entry into NASA’s astronaut corps in 1977 and was selected as an astronaut candidate in January 1978.
After completing training and evaluation in 1979, Onizuka worked on orbiter test and checkout teams and launch support crews at the Kennedy Space Center for STS-1 and STS-2 before working on the software test and checkout crew at the Shuttle Avionics and Integration Laboratory.
In 1984, he was selected as a Mission Specialist for the STS-51C mission, a Department of Defense flight of the Shuttle Discovery that launched on 24 January 1985, making Onizuka the first Asian astronaut in space.
The 51C mission saw Onizuka in charge of primary payload activities, including deployment of a modified Inertial Upper Stage.
Onizuka and his fellow STS-51C crewmembers landed safely with Discovery at the Kennedy Space Center on 27 January 1985 after a 74 hour mission.
Onizuka was then almost immediately assigned to STS-51L, for which he would also serve as a Mission Specialist.
During his life, Onizuka was awarded the Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, Air Force Organizational Excellence Award, and National Defense Service Medal.
He was posthumously promoted to the rank of Colonel and was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with his fellow Challenger crewmembers.
Dr. Judith A. Resnik
Judith Resnik was born 5 April 1949 in Akron, Ohio, and became a classical pianist, cyclist, runner, and flyer.
Resnik graduated from Firestone High School (after achieving a perfect SAT score – the only woman to do so that year) in 1966 before earning a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1970 and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977.
Resnik was a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the IEEE Committee on Professional Opportunities for Women, the American Association of University Women, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, Mortarboard, and was a Senior Member of the Society of Women Engineers.
Resnik’s pre-NASA work included circuit design and development of custom integrated circuitry for phased-array radar control systems; specification, project management, and performance evaluation of control system equipment; and engineering support for NASA sounding rocket and telemetry systems programs.
Resnik went on to employment as a biomedical engineer and staff fellow in the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the National Institutes of Health.
There, Resnik performed biological research experiments concerning the physiology of visual systems before becoming a senior systems engineer in product development with the Xerox Corporation in California.
Resnik then applied for the NASA astronaut corps in 1977 after being recruited by Star Trek actress Nichelle Nichols, and was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978.
Resnik worked for NASA as a member of the Orbiter development team regarding experiment software, RMS systems, and training techniques.
In 1983, she was selected to fly her first mission on the maiden voyage of Discovery on the STS-41D mission.
During the initial launch campaign for STS-41D in June 1984, a post-main engine start pad abort occurred, resulting in an emergency shutdown of Discovery’s engines and the subsequent delay of the launch for two months.
Resnik’s first flight lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center on the morning of 30 August 1984, making her the second American woman to fly in space and the first American-Jewish astronaut.
During STS-41D, Resnik participated in the activation of the OAST-1 solar cell wing experiment, deployment of three satellites, operation of the CFES-III experiment as well as the student crystal growth experiment, and photography experiments using the IMAX motion picture camera.
Resnik and her crewmembers also used Discovery’s RMS arm to successfully remove hazardous ice particles from the Orbiter.
Resnik and the STS-41D crew landed safely with Discovery at Edwards Air Force Base on 5 September 1984 after 144 hours and 57 minutes in orbit, after which Resnik returned to non-flight duties within the astronaut office.
In 1985, Resnik was then assigned as a Mission Specialist and Flight Engineer for STS-51L.
Resnik was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with her fellow Challenger crewmembers.
Dr. Ronald E. McNair
Ronald McNair was born on 21 October 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina, and became a performance jazz saxophonist, a 5th degree black belt Karate instructor, a husband, and father of two children.
McNair earned a bachelor of science in Physics from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971 (graduating magna cum laude), a doctorate of philosophy in Physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976, and three subsequent honorary doctorates by 1984.
McNair was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Optical Society, the American Physical Society (APS), the APS Committee on Minorities in Physics, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics Board of Trustees, the MIT Corporation Visiting Committee, Omega Psi Phi, and was a visiting lecturer in Physics at Texas Southern University.
Moreover, McNair was named a Presidential Scholar (1967-1971), a Ford Foundation Fellow (1971-1974), a National Fellowship Fund Fellow (1974-1975), and a NATO Fellow (1975).
He won the Omega Psi Phi Scholar of the Year Award in 1975, an AAU Karate Gold Medal in 1976, the Los Angeles Public School Systems Service Commendation in 1979, the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1979, the National Society of Black Professional Engineers Distinguished National Scientist Award in 1979, the Whos Who Among Black Americans in 1980, the Friend of Freedom Award in 1981, and five Regional Black belt Karate Championships.
Selected by NASA in 1978, he completed astronaut candidate training in 1979 and was assigned his first mission in 1983.
McNair launched to space for the first time on 3 February 1984 aboard the Shuttle Challenger on the STS-41B mission, for which he was a Mission Specialist.
During STS-41B, McNair and his fellow crewmembers deployed two Hughes 376 communications satellites, tested rendezvous sensors and computer programs, and McNair became the first astronaut to use the Shuttle’s RMS arm during an EVA to position a crewman around Challenger’s payload bay.
STS-41B also saw McNair take primary responsibility for the German SPAS-01 Satellite, acoustic levitation and chemical separation experiments, Cinema 360 motion picture filming, five Getaway Specials, and numerous mid-deck experiments.
McNair landed safely with his crewmembers with Challenger at the Kennedy Space Center (the first Shuttle mission to land at Kennedy) on 11 February 1984 after 191 hours in space.
In 1985, McNair was selected to fly his second mission and was assigned as Mission Specialist to STS-51L.
McNair was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with his fellow Challenger crewmembers.
Gregory B. Jarvis (Capt. United States Air Force)
Gregory Jarvis was born on 24 August 1944 in Detroit, Michigan, and earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering in 1967 and a masters degree in electrical engineering in 1969.
In July 1969, he entered active duty in the USAF and was assigned to the Space Division in El Segundo, California, as a Communications Payload Engineer in the Satellite Communications Program Office.
There, Jarvis worked on advanced tactical communications satellites before he was honorably discharged from the USAF in 1973, with the rank of Captain.
Afterward, Jarvis joined Hughes Aircraft Company’s Space and Communications group, where he worked as a Communications Subsystem Engineer on the MARISAT Program before becoming a member of the Systems Applications Laboratory in 1976, where he was involved in the concept definition for advanced UHF and SHF communications for the strategic forces.
Joining the Advanced Program Laboratory in 1978, Jarvis then worked on the concept formulation and subsequent proposal for the SYNCON IV/LEASAT Program.
In 1982, Jarvis became an Assistant Spacecraft System Engineering Manager.
Jarvis was then the Test and Integration Manager for the F-1, F-2, and F-3 spacecraft and cradle in 1983, where he worked until the shipment of the F-1 spacecraft and cradle to Cape Canaveral.
Jarvis was subsequently selected by NASA as a payload specialist candidate in July 1984.
After completing basic astronaut training, Jarvis was selected to fly as a payload specialist aboard the STS-61C mission of the Shuttle Columbia.
However, NASA subsequently reassigned Jarvis from STS-61C to STS-51L instead.
Jarvis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with his fellow Challenger crewmembers.
S. Christa McAuliffe
Sharon Christa Corrigan was born on 2 September 1948 and earned a bachelor of arts from Framingham State College in 1970 and a masters degree in education from Bowie State College in 1978.
She married her husband, Steven J. McAuliffe, in 1970, and they had two children together.
McAuliffe accepted her first teaching job at Benjamin Foulois Junior High School in Morningside, Maryland, before teaching history and civics at Thomas Johnson Middle School in Lanham, Maryland, from 1971-1978.
She and her husband moved to Concord, New Hampshire, in 1978, where she taught middle school American history and English and high school English before accepting a job at Concord High School in 1983, where she taught American history, law, economics, and a self-designed course called “The American Woman.”
McAuliffe was a member of the Board, New Hampshire Council of Social Studies; National Council of Social Studies; Concord Teachers Association; New Hampshire Education Association; and the National Education Association.
She was also a member of the Junior Service League; teacher, Christian Doctrine Classes, St. Peters Church; host family, A Better Chance Program, for inner-city students; and was a fundraiser for Concord Hospital and Concord YMCA.
Long before the Teacher In Space program, McAuliffe was a self-described child of the Space Age. Inspired by Project Mercury and the Apollo moon landings, McAuliffe wrote on her Teacher In Space application, “I watched the Space Age being born, and I would like to participate.”
In total, more than 11,000 applicants applied for the Teacher in Space program. After a rigorous vetting process, McAuliffe was chosen as the teacher who would fly aboard a future Space Shuttle mission on 19 July 1985.
In making the announcement, NASA commented that McAuliffe had an “infectious enthusiasm” and that she was “the most broad-based, best balanced person” of the final 10 selectees.
In the summer of 1985, McAuliffe reported to the Johnson Space Center to undergo astronaut training and was assigned as a Payload Specialist to STS-51L.
McAuliffe was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor on 23 July 2004 along with her fellow Challenger crewmembers.
(Images: Via NASA, ESA and L2 Historical)