Remembering Challenger


Every year NASA does a memorial service for all of the people lost working there. It’s hard to watch. These were real people with friends who are still working there to this day. And a family that is still expecting to hear them laugh again.

You can give government ran organizations a lot of shit for a lot of things. But at least they take the time to remember those who sacrificed everything for them. They take the time to show appreciation where it is due.

My co-worker Dave Englebrecht died while I was at Ames. He didn’t die heroically leading the charge into space. He had a massive heart attack at his desk. And Ames employees kept him alive long enough to make it to the hospital, largely thanks to well trained personel that happened to be nearby. He was a good guy who dedicated all his time and effort to his job. One of the many thousands of people who help support what is a huge day to day effort to make life in this universe just a little better for everyone.

There are those who die tragically daring to do mighty things. And there are those who give their all every single day for their entire lives. Either way I still think everyone at NASA is an amazing person. Even the most cold hearted beaurocratic pencil pusher there still smiles at the thought of helping to unlock the stars. And still feels the loss whenever something like challenger occurs. Someone once described NASA to me as a ‘family business’. In a lot of ways, it really is. Wishing all the agency folks and contractor folks alike the best from afar. You’re all heroes to me.


One of my teachers was a candidate for the Challenger expedition. At our end-of-year event she gave a talk titled “Reach For The Stars”. It’s the only graduation-type speech I can actually remember. After the Challenger disaster she was emphatic that, if she had the opportunity, she would still go.

I don’t remember why we were out of school on this day, but I was over at a friend’s house. We were playing with his computer which had a new thing called a “modem”, and we were calling up a few numbers. His sister ran into the room and said, “The space shuttle just blew up!” We laughed. I still don’t know why we laughed, because it wasn’t something either of us found funny. I think it was just the absurdity of it. We must have thought she was making some kind of joke.

Part of me still has a hard time believing it.


Wow, that is early for a modem. We were lucky to have Oregon Trail in 1986.

Our teacher had left the class to get a tv for us to watch the launch. When she came back she told us, we did not believe her either. We were too young to have known much about Apollo and the early disasters. In 1986 we had a futuristic looking spaceship and it seemed NASA could do no wrong, at least to us kids.


Thank you for posting this. I try to remember every year.

For me… Challenger = Ron McNair + Jean Michel Jarre

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I vividly remember getting the news. I was a junior in high school, in poli sci class when someone came in and told us. Everyone was shocked. And then, tonedeaf to the moment, I said out loud “They said Bud Light” after the ad campaign of the era. No one laughed, and every one glared at me, and I’ve felt horrible about saying that joke ever since.

(I don’t know anyone who saw the thing on TV, by the way. Shuttle launches were so common by '86 that no one I knew paid any attention to them. We hadn’t watched any launches in school in '81 or so).

My flashbulb memory: A week shy of sixteen years old, cramming for my Grade 11 math final. Bored, I flip on my clock radio. After a few minutes, CBC breaks into the regular programming to announce that the shuttle has exploded. Abandoning my textbook, I run upstairs and turn on CNN (big RCA floor model TV, faux woodgrain finish). Early on, someone spots parachutes in the vicinity of the exhaust cloud. The CNN announcer is momentarily overjoyed, thinking some of the astronauts escaped. But no, it’s a Navy rescue team.

I watch the reports for the next three hours with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. At one point, CNN plays a canned report, intended for future broadcast, about how Christa McAuliffe’s family is dealing with her absence.

My grandfather drives me to the school for my final. I pass, but only just.

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The day itself is just kind of a blur. What I mostly remember is my growing sense of outrage as I learned how avoidable this disaster was. The chain of trust that astronauts rely on to survive, only went so far, to but cut off at the top.

If this week is marked off as a no-fly window for future crewed space shots, NASA might be accused of superstition- but it would also be fitting tribute to the dead of Apollo 1 and Columbia, as well as Challenger.

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One of those days where, if you were old enough to comprehend what happened, you will forever remember exactly where you were at the moment…Kennedy, Lennon, 9/11

That being said, that picture looks like some Regretsy Tragicrafting. It’s only lacking an eagle shedding a single, glittery tear.

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I was in the USAF at the time. I was a weatherman. My new commander had just transferred in a couple months prior from his previous station. He had been the weather officer assigned to Shuttle missions. He knew the whole crew. Was a weird day.

I was riding a bicycle across India when I saw the news on the front page of a local newspaper. I can still recall the shock I felt.

The Challenger disaster was my first ‘flashbulb memory’. I was eating a snack at daycare, and they rolled out the black-and-white TV on a cart (always a good sign) while we ate. I remember seeing the Challenger on the pad, and being a life-long nerd, I watched in rapt attention. Then 73 seconds in, it blew up. I was aghast. I knew what I was seeing was something horrible.

I followed the investigation in the a magazine I wish I could remember the name of, I think something like Odyssey Magazine (it’s been a while). It made a real mark on my mind.

Modems didn’t just come around with the BBS/CompuServe/AOL years. We had a 1200 baud modem in the early 80’s at my house to be able to dial in to the VAX systems – it was the kind that you would have to set the phone’s handset onto. (That technology worked out since the only home phones you could use were leased from Ma Bell so the handsets were all a standard size; modems were coming in self-contained systems by the time that rule was relaxed.)

I’m a mess every time an anniversary of this comes up - Christa McAuliffe was a frequent visitor to our town, and it hit everyone hard.

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