The Challenger Disaster: 25 Years Later

Exactly twenty-five years ago today on January 28, 1986, the American space program suffered one of its greatest losses when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into STS-51-L, the twenty-fifth shuttle mission, killing all seven crew members.

I first learned about the disaster in my junior year at Medina Senior High School when several classes were called into the library to watch the news reports on a television wheeled out on a cart.  In what became one of the defining moments of Generation X, we were bombarded over and over again with the recorded footage of what we thought at the time was an explosion but was actually rapid disintegration producing a giant ball of vapor and gases.  Obviously, the tone was set for a very dark day, which was capped off when we went home later and watched President Reagan as he addressed the nation about the disaster on TV instead of giving his scheduled State of the Union address.

Until that day, my interest in space and the shuttle program had been minimal at best.  I would see footage from various missions every so often when my parents were watching the news, but casually shrugged them off in a typical teenager way.  The next day, however, my parents got me a copy of The Plain Dealer newspaper out of Cleveland and I practically devoured the front section which had detailed coverage of the disaster.  I still have that same entire newspaper today.

My interest in space exploration and astronomy continued when my family visited the Kennedy Space Center during one of our trips to Orlando, Florida.  I brought back a number of souvenirs, including a great hardcover book on NASA's history and a picture of the Challenger crew (as shown above) that currently hangs in my basement writing room.  And being a Star Trek fan, I was very glad to see this dedication at the beginning of the November 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home...

And of course, I was overjoyed when after what seemed like forever at the time, NASA finally resumed shuttle launches with the "Return to Flight" on September 29, 1988 with the Space Shuttle Discovery's STS-26 mission.  I would end up following shuttle missions for a number of years afterward, saddened once more with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, but glad to see Discovery return us to space again in 2005.  I'll be there on February 24th, April 19th and June 28th for the final missions of Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis respectively, and I'll be there to see where we go next.
Posted on January 28, 2011 .