Challenger Disaster 25th Anniversary

January 28, 2011

Hayley Kappes, Galveston County Daily News

NASA marks 25th anniversary of Challenger disaster


This 1986 file photo provided by NASA shows the crew of the space shuttle Challenger. From left are Ellison Onizuka, Mike Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Dick Scobee, Greg Jarvis, Ron McNair and Judith Resnik.

JOHNSON SPACE CENTER — After watching Space Shuttle Challenger break apart less than two minutes after launch, Milt Heflin walked down the hall at mission control to see how he could help.

Heflin, associate director-technical at Johnson Space Center, worked at mission control as a flight controller during the disaster but wasn’t assigned to Challenger’s mission.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. The seven-member crew died shortly after liftoff Jan. 28, 1986, when the orbiter broke apart.

“Even though I wasn’t working the flight, I should have had a hungriness to sort through what happened,” Heflin said. “We have to make sure that we stay hungry, that we ask hard questions and continue to pay attention to detail.”

Heflin gathered Thursday with Johnson Space Center Director Mike Coats, members of the Astronaut Corps and family of astronauts killed during spaceflight operations for NASA’s Day of Remembrance.

The annual memorial pays tribute to 17 astronauts who died during NASA’s three space-related fatalities.

Sandy Anderson, widow of Space Shuttle Columbia astronaut Michael Anderson, and Evelyn Husband-Thomas, widow of Columbia’s commander Rick Husband, laid flowers at Johnson Space Center’s Astronaut Memorial Grove.

Seven astronauts died aboard Columbia during re-entry Feb. 1, 2003.

Three astronauts were killed Jan. 27, 1967, when the Apollo 1 command module caught fire on the launch pad.

Heflin served as chief of the flight director office during the Columbia disaster.

“It’s a reminder that you’re dealing with physics and Mother Nature, neither of which knows or uses politics,” Heflin said. “These are things that can really hurt you if you don’t pay attention to them.”

Steven J. McAuliffe, widower of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe, said he draws comfort from people remembering the tragedies.

Christa McAuliffe was the first teacher selected for space flight through NASA’s Teacher in Space Project.

“Christa confidently and joyfully embraced life, no less than her friends and colleagues on Challenger and no less than the crews of Columbia, Apollo 1 and all of those people who courageously follow their own paths every day,” Steven McAuliffe said in a statement.

“I know Christa would say that that is the most precious lesson. Ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions when they remain true to themselves and enthusiastically pursue their own dreams wherever they may lead.”


In this Jan. 28, 1986 file photo, the space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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