They Touched the Face of God

On Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded only 73 seconds into its 10th mission. On board were Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Many of the nation’s school children were watching the launch on live television in their classrooms, paying special attention to the story of Sharon Christa McAuliffe, the “teacher astronaut.” Many young viewers did not understand that the white explosions indicated a disaster: that the space shuttle had broken apart and that all crew members had died.

President Reagan gave a speech to the nation later that evening, in which he praised the astronauts, saying that they “touched the face of God.”

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