Each January NASA holds a day of remembrance to honor the crews of Apollo 1, space shuttles Challenger and Columbia who lost their lives in pursuit of not only their personal passions but the goals of a planet, for we are a species that is curious and are compelled to explore and space exploration is compelling. This year as we remember the fallen astronauts it also marks the 25th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy. Of the three tragedy’s, it is the loss of of Challenger that many remember vividly. Why is that?
The Apollo 1 tragedy came at a time when the cold war was its zenith and America was preparing to launch the first three man Apollo crew into space as a precursor to a manned mission to the moon. Sadly in their rush to beat the Soviets NASA pushed the envelope too far and we lost Virgil Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee during a test in the Apollo capsule just weeks before they were to launch. A nation and world mourned their loss.
In 2003 on February we lost the space shuttle Columbia as it was returning from its mission. On board were Colonel Rick Husband; Lt. Colonel Michael Anderson; Commander Laurel Clark; Captain David Brown; Commander William McCool; Dr. Kalpana Chawla; and Ilan Ramon, a Colonel in the Israeli Air Force. By the time this tragedy occurred most television networks except for some cable news channels didn’t even cover the launches or return of shuttles live.
However on January 28, 1986 we lost space shuttle Challenger and the world was watching. The mission had a higher profile than recent missions as high school teacher, turned astronaut, Christa McAuliffe was set to fulfill a dream many shared as she became the first civilian astronaut. Children around the world were watching. The launch was carried live on most networks. There were no cell phones, no internet to speak of to distract people. And the tragedy happened right before everyone’s eyes. It is a moment that most who saw it will never forget. One second the shuttle was hurtling skyward to it’s destiny and the next it was gone in flash. Everyone was confused then shocked as the realization of what had just happened. We lost astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith, Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair and teacher astronaut Christa McAuliffe that day.
Out of these tragedy’s we’ve grown stronger and our passion and need to explore have not been diminished. In fact the family’s that lost their love ones on the Challenger mission went on to found the Challenger Center which today has 48 learning centers across the United States and three international centres including the Ontario Science Centre Challenger Learning Centre in Toronto.
Their vision “is to create a scientifically literate population that can thrive in a world increasingly driven by information and technology. Our vision for the future is a global community where students command their own destinies by developing skills in decision making, teamwork, problem solving, and communication. This vision is based on a realistic assessment of the skills needed for success in the 21st century.”
Today the Challenger Center’s host over 400,000 students each year and I think it’s safe to say that the dreams and aspirations of the lost astronauts lives on in these and other children who have been inspired by their efforts.
You can learn more about the Challenger Center 25th Anniversary events on NASA Watch.