When The Challenger Blew 25 Year Ago

It was 25 years ago today…

Man's Power to Leave the Earth!

It was 25 Years Ago Today that I brought the news of the Challenger explosion to my own school. I remember it VERY well. I stayed home to watch the launch, being a big fan of the space program, and having met the astronauts of the first launch (Columbia) personally, due to some connections at Rockwell International via my church.

A Sight I Will Never Forget

I saw it happened and was stunned and shocked, of course. (I was in 9th grade) When I got to school and checked into the office they saw my crying and asked why, and when I said, “I’m just upset about the Challenger explosion” they were not aware of it. I was the one to bring the news to one of the largest high schools in LA. (Lakewood High School) Soon it was announced over the PA, classes were canceled and everyone was around TVs watching the news. Being the one who had delivered the bad news was a strange feeling, especially after having met some of the astronauts (Bob Crippen and Bill Young) and having sat in the cockpit of the Columbia at a tour of Rockwell International.

What are your memories of that day?

Remembering the Crew

President Reagan’s speech that night:

Nineteen years ago, almost to the day, we lost three astronauts in a terrible accident on the ground. But, we’ve never lost an astronaut in flight; we’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. We mourn their loss as a nation together.

For the families of the seven, we cannot bear, as you do, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss, and we’re thinking about you so very much. Your loved ones were daring and brave, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that says, “Give me a challenge and I’ll meet it with joy.” They had a hunger to explore the universe and discover its truths.

They wished to serve, and they did. They served all of us.

We’ve grown used to wonders in this century. It’s hard to dazzle us. But for twenty-five years the United States space program has been doing just that. We’ve grown used to the idea of space, and perhaps we forget that we’ve only just begun. We’re still pioneers. They, the members of the Challenger crew, were pioneers.

And I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff. I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizons. The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them…

There’s a coincidence today. On this day 390 years ago, the great explorer Sir Francis Drake died aboard ship off the coast of Panama. In his lifetime the great frontiers were the oceans, and a historian later said, “He lived by the sea, died on it, and was buried in it.” Well, today we can say of the Challenger crew: Their dedication was, like Drake’s, complete.

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

(Thank you Randy Tramp for posting Reagan’s speech on CM Connect)
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  1. It was an unusually warm day in southern Colorado, so I decided to wash the car. A few minutes later, my wife came out and told me my mom was on the phone. I picked up and instead of the usual greetings and small talk, she said, “Are you watching the news?” I said no and she said, “The shuttle blew up!” I concluded the conversation and turned immediately to the news coverage.

    I’ve talked to my fellow staff members at our church’s daycare and we’ve often remarked that the kids we teach were not not even born at the time of the Challenger disaster (in fact, most weren’t even around at 9-11). We have such vivid memories…what will happen that will provide our current 3’s & 4’s with their own clear memories?

  2. I believe that I was home sick with bronchitis. I was shocked and once again thought of how fragile life is. How we don’t know when our last breath will be. And I thought of my sister who had drowned just before her seventh birthday (I was almost three). I loved the poem quoted about Final Flight in memory of the astronauts who lost their lives on the Challenger. I thought of my Dad since it was his birthday that very day and he was a pilot. My parents were missionaries in Brazil and I had not seen them in two years. I wondered how many more birthdays my Dad would have. It happened to be his last here on earth. He had a heart attack at age 51 in July 1996.

    Life is indeed fragile and only our good LORD knows the day and the hour we breath our last on earth. Life is precious and we need to always cherish our loved ones while we have them! Tell them we love them! And share Christ with those who don’t know Him! Life here is short. Eternity is forever.

  3. Wow, Linda, you indeed have felt the touch of the brevity of life many times. Did you mean your dad died in 1996? (or did you mean July 1986?) My mom died in 1996, on Christmas Day in fact, but that was ten years after Challenger exploded in 1986. So he’d have gotten another yen years which is nice. Anyway, you are right – life is precious. Since my near- death experience in April 2008 which left me with a heart stent, I live with a much different outlook now! Thanks for the comment.

    Tim – thanks for recounting your story too. You even remember the weather. Amazing how these events permanently embed the details of the day it happened, and how true, sadly, that there will be these events for the children of today. What a sobering thought.

  4. Ooops – two mistakes in my post…

    My Dad’s birthday was the FOLLOWING day Jan 29th.

    And my Dad died July 25th, 1986 (not 1996). It’s very late to be typing… sorry!

  5. Karl, thanks for your comment as well. I remember reading about the loss of your mother in earlier years on this blog. I lost my mother in April 1999 the day before Easter 2 yrs 4 mos after surviving a paralyzing stroke. God healed her and freed her from the emprisonment of her stroke and loss of speech just in time to celebrate in Heaven her Lord Jesus Christ’s Resurrection! With stillborn twin girl sisters in Heaven as well, that’s more than half my family in Heaven. Life is indeed very precious and our God is good – ALL the time! Even in our sorrow, even in tragedies such as national events like the Challenger shuttle, Oklahoma bombing, and 9-11 to name just a few.

  6. God uses these events to call our attention to the brevity of life. Without them, would we consider our eternal destiny? Erwin Lutzer, my favorite pastor, once said, (I’m wording from memory, not a quote) “war and tragedy do not increase death – the death rate on earth is the same – 1 to 1, we all will die. These events group deaths together, but do not increase the death rate, we all will die. Are you ready for when you will die?”

    That is what these events ought to make us ponder.

  7. I was in Mrs. Pope’s fourth grade class. To my amazement, I had managed to convince her to allow us to watch the launch on tv during class. My dad was an Air Force pilot and had taught me all about flight which led to my fascination with space and a dream of becoming an astronaut. When I learned that Christa Mcauliffe would be going on this mission, I was so excited. I had hopes of becoming just like her someday. I remember my teacher wheeling in the television and the entire class was chattering and excited. We counted down the lift-off out loud in the classroom. With the explosion, there was complete silence and then great bursts of emotion. Mrs. Pope jumped up immediately, turned off the television, and wheeled it out into the hall. I just sat there, stunned and unable to comprehend what had just happened. It seemed, in an instant, my hopes for my future were destroyed. We didn’t talk about it in class that day. We moved right into our next lesson. I felt numb, embarrassed, and responsible for subjecting my whole class to this. My teacher was surely shaken by it, but she never showed it. I’m not sure if this was a good thing or not, but how does one prepare to respond to such tragedies? Later that week, our school held a ceremony outside. We launched balloons with our prayers, thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I wrote, “I still want to be an astronaut, just like you. And I pray God will protect all the other astronauts, too.”God had different plans for my life, but that memory has helped me to continue to encourage children to know that God makes good things come of bad, and also to encourage them to dream big and step out in faith even when it is very scary to do so.

  8. Lindsey, how vivid your memory is! How tough that must have been for your teacher, and my heart goes out to fourth grade you!! It was such a hard time for our nation. We were more innocent then as a nation it somehow seems. Especially as children. Glad you all had that balloon ceremony later, how beautiful. Your story touched me.

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