Meet John Doe: Remember the crew of the space shuttle ‘Challenger’

Paul Gorski
Paul Gorski

By Paul Gorski

The space shuttle Challenger lifted off its launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 10:38 a.m. CST on Jan. 28, 1986. Seventy-three seconds later, the space shuttle exploded, killing all seven crew members on board. On the anniversary of that tragedy, I remember the last Challenger crew:

Teacher in Space Participant Sharon “Christa” McAuliffe; Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis; Mission Specialist Judy Resnik; Commander Dick Scobee; Mission Specialist Ronald McNair; Pilot Michael Smith; and Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka.

The explosion was blamed on a faulty O-ring, among other things. The O-ring did not respond well to the cold weather at the cape that day, causing a seal to open, allowing gases to escape and explode. This mission was particularly important as it featured Teacher in Space Participant Sharon “Christa” McAuliffe, and school children from across the nation tuned in to watch the liftoff.

I was in my senor year of college when the Challenger tragedy occurred. I had put my television on a timer and had it scheduled to turn on in time to watch the liftoff. I did not want to miss it, as I was a big fan of the shuttle program. I was so shaken when the explosion occurred that I canceled my lab appointments that day.

My interest in the space shuttle started when I was in high school. My high school physics class was encouraged to submit to NASA experiments that could be conducted on the upcoming space shuttle flights. I suggested testing the effects of weightlessness on regeneration by experimenting with planaria, flatworms known to have simple regeneration capabilities. My experiment did not make it on the shuttle, but a nearly identical experiment did make it on the International Space Station in 2005.

Since the early days of the program, I tried to watch most of the shuttle liftoffs and landings, including the Jan. 28, 1986, liftoff. I did not lose interest in the program after the accident, but I did fear another tragedy. Post-accident investigations revealed the high probability of another disaster. Unfortunately, these predictions came true when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry in February 2003.

The Challenger crew members certainly knew there were risks with space flight. They were brave people, taking risks to expand our scientific knowledge and technical expertise in spaceflight. Take a minute to remember these people and the sacrifice they made for our nation, our world.

Paul Gorski ( is a Cherry Valley Township resident who also authors the Tech-Friendly column seen in this newspaper. Read “Tech-Friendly” at

Posted Jan. 27, 2015

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