"Three, two, one . . . "Roger. Go with throttle up," shuttle commander Dick Scobee radioed on a freezing January morning 20 years ago. His daughter Kathie, 25, huddled with her mother, brother and infant son on a roof at Cape Canaveral, along with the assembled families of the six other Challenger astronauts about to blast into space. She felt the rumble of liftoff and hugged her baby closer in the cold. "Wow, look how pretty," she said 74 seconds later. "Is that normal?" someone else in the crowd asked. "They're gone," said Jane, wife of pilot Michael Smith. "What do you mean, Mom?" asked her son. "They're lost," she replied. All over the country, the millions watching that awful bloom spread across their television screens realized that something had gone wrong before they heard the voice of Mission Control: "Obviously . . . a major malfunction."
The disaster turned into a national trauma ingrained in the country's memory, much like president John F. Kennedy's assassination 23 years earlier and the September 11 attacks 15 years later.
Saturday's commemoration comes nearly three years after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon returning to Earth, killing all seven astronauts on board, AND ALSO, nearly 39 years after the crew of Apollo 1 was lost in a tragic fire in their capsule before liftoff.
--Loss of Apollo 1 (Apollo 204): 1/27/1967
--Loss of Challenger (STS-51-L): 1/28/1986
--Loss of Columbia ( STS-107 ): 2/1/2003
----US to mark 20th anniversary of Challenger shuttle disaster
----20 Years Later, Teacher's Life Remembered
----20th Anniversary Photos
----OFFICIAL CHALLENGER (25th Shuttle mission) MISSION BREAKDOWN: The Explosion 73 seconds after liftoff claimed crew and vehicle. Cause of explosion was determined to be an O-ring failure in right SRB. Cold weather was a contributing factor. Launch Weight: 268,829 lbs.
----OFFICIAL COLUMBIA (113th Shuttle Mission) MISSION BREAKDOWN: The vehicle broke up during re-entry while traveling at 12,500 mph (Mach 18.3) at an altitude of 207,135ft over East Central Texas resulting in the loss of both vehicle and crew. ----OFFICIAL APOLLO 1 (APOLLO 204) MISSION BREAKDOWN: January 27, 1967. Tragedy struck on the launch pad during a preflight test for Apollo 204, which was scheduled to be the first Apollo manned mission, and would have been launched on February 21, 1967.Astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee lost their lives when a fire swept through the Command Module (CM). ----APOLLO ARCHIVE----FROM 10 YEARS AGO (1996)
----Official Pictures From NASA
------------"If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life."-Virgil "Gus" Grissom-(Apollo 1)-1967 --------
President Reagan's remarks following the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew.
Broadcast at 5 p.m. EST, Jan. 28, 1986.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'd planned to speak to you tonight to report on the state of the Union, but the events of earlier today have led me to change those plans. Today is a day for mourning and remembering.
Nancy and I are pained to the core by the tragedy of the shuttle Challenger. We know we share this pain with all of the people of our country. This is truly a national loss.
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 25 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.
I've always had great faith in and respect for our space program, and what happened today does nothing to diminish it. We don't hide our space program. We don't keep secrets and cover things up. We do it all up front and in public. That's the way freedom is, and we wouldn't change it for a minute.
We'll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.
I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA or who worked on this mission and tell them: "Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it."
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 an 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 their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."