CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (WESH)—Thirty-five years ago, just before noon, Challenger lifted off from Kennedy Space Center, carrying the first teacher into space. Two minutes later, the shuttle exploded, killing Christa McAuliffe and six other crew members.
McAuliffe, a teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, was selected for the mission after a nationwide search by NASA. She was set to deliver science lessons from space.
The other crew members were payload specialist Gregory Jarvis, mission specialist Judith A. Resnik, mission commander Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission specialist Ronald E. McNair, pilot Mike J. Smith and mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka.
The space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into flight as thousands of people, including many school children, watched from the ground. Millions more Americans watched the tragedy unfold on live television. Many were watching because of McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space.
The explosion was a result of cold weather and of NASA’s leaders’ disregard of warnings that the launch could lead to disaster.
Icicles that hung on the launch pad formed after fire suppression systems were turned on. Mission managers received a recommendation that it was too cold to launch the shuttle safely and were well aware of the ice.
The explosion led to the grounding of the Space Shuttle fleet for nearly three years during which various safety measures, solid rocket booster redesign, and a new policy on management decision-making for future launches were implemented.
The widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee told WESH 2 News in 2016 that her husband offered McAuliffe a chance out before the fatal mission. June Scobee Rogers said her husband wanted all the teachers to know they faced the possibility of never returning from a flight.
NASA will honor members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery, including the crews of Apollo 1 and space shuttles Challenger and Columbia, during the agency’s annual Day of Remembrance Thursday.
McAuliffe’s lost lessons were finally taught in space in 2018. Astronauts Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold performed some of the experiments from the International Space Station.