Study Guide

The Challenger Seven in Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster Address

By Ronald Reagan

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The Challenger Seven

Meet the Crew

Here they are, folks: the pioneers of the hour. The Challenger Seven were:

  • Michael Smith (b. April 30, 1945) was originally from Beaufort, North Carolina. In 1968 he received his Master of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. He worked extensively as an aviator and served in the Vietnam War before working for NASA. Along with Dick Scobee, he was a pilot on the space shuttle Challenger.
  • Dick Scobee (b. May 19, 1939) was born in Cle Elum, Washington. He had a long career as a pilot, serving in the Vietnam War with the U.S. Air Force before joining NASA in 1978. Along with Michael Smith, he was a pilot on the space shuttle Challenger.
  • Judith Resnik (b. April 5, 1949) hailed from Akron, Ohio. With a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, she worked on projects for various companies before joining NASA in 1978. She was the first American-Jewish astronaut in space and the second American female astronaut in space. Along with Ronald McNair and Ellison Onizuka, she was a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger.
  • Ronald McNair (b. October 21, 1950) was originally from Lake City, South Carolina. He received his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a renown specialist in the field of laser physics. Institutions basically threw honorary degrees and awards at him. He also had a black belt in karate and was a skilled saxophonist…because you can never be too awesome. He was the second African-American astronaut in space. Along with Judith Resnik and Ellison Onizuka, he was mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger.
  • Ellison Onizuka (b. June 24, 1946) grew up in Hawaii, his hometown being Kealakekua. In 1970 he joined the U.S. Air Force and worked extensively as a pilot. Eight years later, in 1978, he joined NASA, where he worked as a research engineer on several projects before his second spaceflight on the Challenger. Along with Judith Resnik and Ronald McNair, he was mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger.
  • Gregory Jarvis (b. August 24, 1944) was born in Detroit, Michigan. He held a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from Northeastern University. In 1969 he joined the U.S. Air Force, and after an honorable discharge in 1973 worked for the Hughes Aircraft company (of Howard Hughes fame). Thanks to his in-depth experience in advanced electrical engineering research, he joined NASA in 1984 to work as a payload specialist on the space shuttle Challenger.
  • Christa McAuliffe (b. September 2, 1948) was originally from Boston, Massachusetts. She held a Master of Arts degree in education supervision and administration from Bowie State University. Before joining NASA she worked extensively as a schoolteacher, specializing in the subjects of history, civics, English, and social studies, among others.

    She joined NASA in 1985 as the winner of the inaugural Teacher in Space Program competition. Aboard the space shuttle Challenger she was a payload specialist and was suppose to broadcast several lessons from space to children on Earth.

They were the crew members aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it fatally destructed in mid-air. Their deaths were the reason for Reagan's speech on the evening of January 28, 1986.

The Challenger Seven were the first American astronauts to lose their lives during flight, which made the disaster a tragedy unlike any the nation had seen up until then. Each member of the crew was an expertly skilled pilot, scientist, or researcher. Physicist Ronald McNair was a highly accomplished saxophonist and was a supposed to have recorded a solo sax track aboard the Challenger. (Source)

Because the only thing better than a solo sax track is a solo sax track in space.

A Good Apple

While they are often discussed as a group (like we're doing now), one of the Seven tends to get more attention than the others. That person is a well-loved schoolteacher by the name of Christa McAuliffe. (Source)

Her successful application to the NASA Teacher in Space Project, a major Reagan Administration initiative, secured her a seat on the Challenger and made her a patron saint of public school boards across the country. (Source)

Her presence on the shuttle represented new horizons for American education and the opening of NASA's Space Shuttle Program to citizens.


So when the shuttle went down, so did a lot of excitement and optimism about the future of America's education and scientific research programs. It was also just a huge drag in general. (But that goes without saying, obviously.)

No one is really sure how much of the horrible Challenger free-fall the crew actually experienced. Some speculate that they lost consciousness almost immediately and remained unaware of their deadly plummet to the ocean's surface. Other believe the crew were fully aware of everything that was happening.

NASA's audio files from the Challenger voice tapes do little to solve the mystery, though the last words recorded were those of the pilot, Michael J. Smith, simply saying, "uh oh." (Source)

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