NASA Remembers Fallen Heroes This Week, 30 Years After Challenger Tragedy

By  //  January 24, 2016

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Crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The coming week marks a somber but special occasion for NASA, as the space agency remembers all of its tragedies -- especially Challenger, the devastating in-flight explosion that shocked the world. (SunshineStateNews.com image)

Crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The coming week marks a somber but special occasion for NASA, as the space agency remembers all of its tragedies — especially Challenger, the devastating in-flight explosion that shocked the world. (SunshineStateNews.com image)

(SunshineStateNews.com) – The coming week marks a somber but special occasion for NASA, as the space agency remembers all of its tragedies, especially Challenger, the devastating in-flight explosion that shocked the world.

It occurred 30 years ago Thursday — within view of millions of Floridians, including friends and family of the crew and dozens of school children.

NASA’s Day of Remembrance is set for Jan. 28, the actual date of the tragedy. It will also be a time for the agency to pay tribute to the crews of Apollo 1 and the space shuttle Columbia, as well as other members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery.

Lucy Lavette, one of the school children from Brevard County, now a teacher herself like Crista McAuliffe who died in the capsule, was only 8 years old as she stood in the cold, watching Challenger rise.

“For years and years I thought about that explosion every day, and watching the bits of the shuttle come down out of smoke. I just stood there shaking for such a long time. It sort of defined my childhood, that’s how much it affected me,” Lavette told Sunshine State News.

On Monday, Jan. 25, the National Geographic Channel will premiere a powerful new hour-long documentary, “Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes.” The program will include all seven astronauts who lost their lives in 1986, including New Hampshire teacher-in-space and payload specialist McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

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According to National Geographic, “Challenger Disaster: Lost Tapes” relies on “contemporary audio and rarely seen footage rather than voice-over narration to tell the story of the doomed shuttle mission.”

For example, the documentary features, among other things, NASA interviews with McAuliffe, candid video of the teacher touring Challenger with her husband and two children, and behind-the-scenes footage of Vice President George H.W. Bush and Ohio Senator (and former Mercury mission astronaut) John Glenn talking to members of the Challenger launch team just hours after the tragedy.

The documentary will also air on National Geographic Channels in 171 countries in 45 languages, and in Spanish on Nat Geo Mundo, network representatives said.

On that bitter cold January morning in 1986, the vehicle that was celebrated for its technical prowess broke up 73 seconds into the flight, burning nearly 2 million liters of fuel in just a few seconds, creating a sinister cloud of gas that still plagues the memory of anyone who saw it.

An investigation later determined that a rubber seal called an O-ring in the shuttle’s right-hand solid rocket booster failed during liftoff, allowing hot, high-pressure gas to escape. This gas damaged the shuttle’s huge external fuel tank, as well as the gear that attached the booster to the tank.

Cold weather played a role in the O-ring’s failure, investigators found.

The space shuttle program was grounded for nearly three years in the wake of the disaster, finally lifting off again with the orbiter Discovery’s return-to-flight STS-26 mission on Sept. 29, 1988. And Challenger wasn’t the only shuttle ever lost during flight; the orbiter Columbia broke apart upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

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On Thursday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, and other agency senior officials will conduct an observance and wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia starting at 9 a.m. ET. After the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington, various NASA centers will conduct remembrance events for employees and the families of those lost in service to America’s space program.

Crew of Space Shuttle Columbia.

Crew of Space Shuttle Columbia.

The ceremony of particular importance to Floridians is at 10 a.m., when NASA Television provides live coverage of a wreath-laying at the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. The private, not-for-profit Astronauts Memorial Foundation will host the observance. The Foundation built and maintains the Space Mirror Memorial, dedicated in 1991 to honor all astronauts who lost their lives on missions or during training. Congress designated it a National Memorial.

According to NASA, other remembrance events include:

• NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will observe the day with a candle-lighting ceremony for center employees, as well as a public event at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Marshall’s official visitor center, at 10 a.m. CST. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, has prepared an event for employees that includes placing flowers at the Apollo, Challenger and Columbia Trees at the center.

• In partnership with the Challenger Learning Center of Northwest Indiana, NASA’s Glenn Research Center will host former astronaut Greg Harbaugh for the opening of the exhibit “Inspiring the Future — The Legacy of Exploration,” at the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond.

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