Thursday, January 28, 2016


JFK+50:  Volume 6, No. 1842


Cape Canaveral, Florida (JFK+50) Thirty years ago this morning, January 28, 1986,  the space shuttle Challenger broke apart in a cloud of fire and smoke just seventy-three seconds after liftoff resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members...Dick Scobee (commander), Michael Smith (pilot), Gregory Jarvis, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Ronald McNair and Judy Resnick.

Mrs. McAuliffe, a 37 year old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, had been selected to be the first civilian to travel in space.
President Ronald Reagan cancelled his State of the Union message and instead spoke to a shocked nation and world on radio and television.

The President said...

"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning as they prepared for their journey, waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

Justin Wm. Moyer of The Washington Post writes that Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan recalled the phrase 'Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth' from reading "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee in the 7th grade.  The work was about an American airman who had lost his life in a mid-air collision during World War II.

The speech, delivered at 5 p.m. Eastern time, was given in place of the State of the Union...the first time a presidential State of the Union message had been cancelled in modern times.  President Reagan said..."Today is a day for mourning and remembering."

The investigation following the tragedy uncovered a failure in the "O" ring seal in one of two solid fuel rockets.   It also concluded that the unusually cold temperatures at the Cape at the time of launch contributed to the tragedy.

James Oberg of MSNBC writes in "7 Myths about the Challenger shuttle disaster"...

"The shuttle did not explode and the flight did not end at 73 seconds into launch.  Challenger was torn apart from the boosters which continued to climb. Pieces (of the Challenger climbed) to 65,000 feet and then arched back into the water.  The cabin hit the surface 2 minutes and 45 seconds after break up..."

Mr. Oberg adds that "few people actually saw the launch" live on television.  It was being broadcast on CNN but not on the other major networks.  I was watching at home that morning because school was cancelled due to snow.  

I remember being puzzled by the flame coming from the shuttle in a place where I had never seen it before and then came the fireball.  I remember it being so odd that the NASA communicator continued to read data as if nothing had happened.  At one point, he quietly said that there had been "a major malfunction".


"Exactly the right words, exactly the right way:  Ronald Reagan's amazing Challenger disaster speech," by Justin Wm. Moyer, January 28, 2016, The Washington Post,

"Seven Myths About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster," by James Oberg, MSNBC,

Challenger Crew
NASA Photograph

Liftoff of Challenger
January 28, 1986
NASA Photograph