“In the control room, a deathly silence.” The Challenger Tragedy, 35 Years Ago Today

On Jan. 28, 1986, NASA faced its first shuttle disaster, the loss of the Challenger orbiter and its seven-astronaut crew. Challenger’s last crew – members of the STS-51L mission were Teacher in Space Participant, Sharon “Christa” McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Gregory Jarvis, Mission Specialist, Judy Resnik, Commander Dick Scobee. Mission Specialist, Ronald McNair, Pilot, Michael Smith and Mission Specialist, Ellison Onizuka.

STS 51L crew members designed this patch which would have represented their mission. The graphic depicts Challenger launching from Florida with a backdrop of Halley’s comet against the U.S. flag. Surnames of the crewmembers complete the patch. The name of the first teacher in space, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, is marked with a symbolic apple.
Christa McAuliffe, the teacher astronaut, celebrates with friends in her house in Concord, N.H., the night she returned from White House. (The Concord Monitor/Suzanne Kreiter)
The crew of the space shuttle Challenger flight 51-L, leave their quarters for the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. From foreground are commander Francis Scobee, Mission Specialist Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist Ronald McNair, Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis, Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, teacher Christa McAuliffe and pilot Michael Smith. (AP/Steve Helber) 
President Ronald Reagan, surrounded by members of his senior staff, watches a television replay of the explosion of the Challenger at the White House. From left are: Larry Speakes, Deputy White House Press Secretary; Presidential Assistant Dennis Thomas; Special Assistant Jim Kuhn; Reagan; White House Communications Director Patrick Buchanan, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan (AP/Craig Fuji) 
Debris from the space shuttle Challenger is laid out on a giant grid at the Kennedy Space Center in this March 1986 NASA photo. NASA hoped to piece together the remains of the space vehicle. The photograph was part of the testimony given to the Presidential Commission on the space shuttle Challenger accident. (NASA) #
It took nearly two months to recover the remains from the ocean floor, about 18 miles off the shore of Cape Canaveral, Florida. On May 20, 1986, the comingled cremated remains of the seven Challenger astronauts were buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in Section 46, Grave 1129. Two also have individual gravesites: Lt. Col. Francis R. “Dick” Scobee (Section 46, to the left of the memorial) and Commander Michael J. Smith (Section 7A, Grave 208). 
Family members and NASA worked together to erect the memorial in Section 46, near Memorial Amphitheater. Approximately 400 people attended the dedication ceremony on the morning of March 21, 1987, including Vice President and Mrs. George Bush. The astronauts’ faces and names are carved into the memorial marker: Commander Michael J. Smith; Commander Francis R. ‘Dick’ Scobee; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Ellison Onizuka, mission specialist; S. Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist; Gregory B. Jarvis, payload specialist; Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist.

The back of the marker features the famous aeronautical poem “High Flight,” written by Royal Canadian Air Force pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr. in 1941: 

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flunt
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God


Source: New York Times and Boston.com and Space.com