It’s now been 35 years since one of the worst disasters in space history.
On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven crew members. The rubber seal on one of the rocket boosters became stiff in the cold temperatures, triggering the explosion. All seven people onboard were killed, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first civilian and first teacher in space.
“I don’t think any teacher has ever been more ready to have two lessons in my life,” McAuliffe said before liftoff. “I’ve been preparing these since September, and I just hope everybody tunes in on day four now to watch the teacher teaching from space.”
The tragedy unfolded live on televisions across the country. Many children gathered in their classrooms to watch the historic event, only to see the shuttle go up in flames.
On the ground at Cape Canaveral, hundreds witnessed the doomed launch in person, including McAuliffe’s parents.
After the explosion, then-President Ronald Reagan postponed his State of the Union address, instead delivering a televised eulogy to the American people.
An investigation later found NASA was aware the freezing temperatures could cause problems for the rocket boosters, but decided to go ahead with the launch anyway.
The Challenger disaster brought NASA’s space program to a halt for nearly three years. About a decade later, wreckage from the shuttle washed up on a Florida beach.
The tragedy was felt nationwide. Here in southern Colorado, at least two schools, a learning center, and one mountain peak were named in honor of the victims: McAuliffe Elementary in District 11, Challenger Middle School in District 20, the Challenger Learning Center of Colorado, and Challenger Point in the Sangre de Cristo mountains.