It’s time for a little Throwback Thursday. Today marks 30 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. This is an article I originally posted on October 22, 2010, as part of the 19 Somethin’ series. In that series, broke down the Mark Wills hit “19 Somethin’” line by line. If you are unfamiliar with that country tune, Mark Wills makes ’70s and ’80s pop culture references throughout the whole song. He had a line about the disaster, so here is the whole article dedicated to it. It even features a “Very Special Episode” of Punky Brewster at the end.
The 19 Somethin’ series continues. If you missed the previous articles, you can get caught up here.
Here is the next line in the song:
Space shuttle fell out of the sky
and the whole world cried
In the ’80s, there were some events that were shown over and over again. The assassination attempt on President Reagan. Joe Theisman’s leg snapping in half (Nasty. And we had to relive that in the first minute of last year’s movie, The Blind Side). The ball going between Bill Buckner’s legs (Tragic for Red Sox fans, glorious for Met fans). And of course, the space shuttle disaster.
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred on January 28, 1986. 73 seconds after takeoff, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and broke into pieces over the Atlantic Ocean. Up to that point in the space program’s history, the flights were becoming a casual thing. For a long time, it was a major event when a rocket, or the new space shuttles took off. But, after a few years of the space shuttles taking off and landing, you may not have known when a shuttle was being sent up.
However, this flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger was an exception. One of the members of this crew was to be the first schoolteacher to go up in space – Christa McAuliffe. Not only was there general interest in this, but many public schools across the nation showed the launch live. Here is the launch, that many of us have seen many times, but may not have seen it in a while:
On the night of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan had been scheduled to give his annual State of the Union Address. He initially announced that the address would go on as scheduled, but then postponed the State of the Union Address for a week and instead gave a national address on the Challenger disaster from the Oval Office of the White House. He finished the address with the line from the poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.:
“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.'”
Here is the whole address:
The days and weeks following the disaster, we learned more about O-rings than we ever wanted to. The disaster occurred because a rubber O-ring froze, and failed to seal the tanks from the hot high-pressure gases, and the rest is history.
The following were the crew members:
After a 32-month hiatus, the next shuttle mission was launched on September 29, 1988. That shuttle was the Discovery, which was also the first shuttle launched after the 2003 Columbia disaster.
In March 1986, NBC aired the second season finale of Punky Brewster, which saw Punky, who was dreaming to be an astronaut, and her class, trying to deal with the Challenger tragedy, after watching the launch in school. The episode was immediately scripted soon after the crash, as NBC executives knew a lot of children would be devastated by the loss of Christa McAuliffe, a teacher, as the launch was shown in many schools.
Here is the episode. Part 2 gives an idea of the initial reaction of the disaster: