Today in history….
January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first U.S. non-military, ordinary civilian to have the honor to travel into space is school teacher Christa McAuliffe. Ms. McAuliffe had won a contest for teachers in space. Crew members: Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Mike Smith, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis.
Seventy-three seconds into the launch, Christa’s family and hundreds others, “stared in disbelief as the shuttle exploded in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.”
On the night of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan was to give his annual State of the Union address, but it was postponed for a week and President Reagan instead addressed the nation on the Challenger disaster from the Oval Office. President Reagan ended his speech with a line from the poem High Flight written by 19-year-old Royal Canadian Air Force fighter and United States Citizen. The last line of Reagan’s speech is a quote of the poem, “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.’
The memorial service for the challenger crew was attended by 6,000 NASA employees and 4,000 guests, as well as family. Many may not remember that there was a Presidential Commission Committee created to investigate the Challenger disaster. The committee members were: Chairman William P. Rogers, Vice Chairman Neil Armstrong, David Acheson, Eugene Covert, Richard Feynman, Robert Hotz, Donald Kutyna, Sally Ride, Robert Rummel, Joseph Sutter, Arthur Walker, Albert Wheelon, and Chuck Yeager. The committee discovered it was the O-rings that didn’t seal a joint on the right rocket booster. Even more disturbing was that the defect had been known since the late 70’s but was never disclosed by NASA and listed as “an acceptable flight risk”.
It should be noted that the Challenger disaster brought about the creation of the Office of Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance by NASA and The families of the Challenger crew organized the Challenger Center for Space Science Education as a permanent memorial to the crew.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor ever eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
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