Remembering the Challenger

Today marks the twenty fifth anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster. On January 28,1986, just 73 seconds into flight, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The spacecraft exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:39 a.m. Disintegration of the entire vehicle began after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster failed at liftoff.

NASA image of astronaut Judith Resnik (1949-1986) from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society.

Among the seven lives lost was Judith Resnik. Judith was born in Akron, OH, on April 5, 1949 where she lived with her parents and younger brother, Charles, attended Hebrew school, and developed her love of math. Resnik went on to get her BS from Carnegie Mellon and a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland. In 1978, actress Nichelle Nichols (working with NASA) recruited Resnik to the astronaut program where she became the first Jewish woman in space as well as the first Jewish American astronaut in space.

Judith Resnik poses by her flight locker (with sticker that reads I love Tom Selleck) with "Hi Dad" sign. Photo from the collections of NASA.

The loss of Judith Resnik and the other six individuals who died aboard the challenger is still felt by their families and communities. The 1986 State of the Union address was postponed the evening of the accident, and instead President Regan addressed the nation in honor of the men and women on the Challenger.   “In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, the crew’s families came together, still grieving from loss, but firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission” (Challenger Center)  The result was an interactive space center that not only honored the astronaut’s memories but educated visitors about ongoing space exploration.

51-L Challenger Crew in White Room. From the collections of NASA

Our thoughts are with the families of the seven shuttle astronauts: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe.

E. Higgins
History Curator

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