Crew members of mission STS-51L stand in the White Room at Pad 39B following the end of the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT). From left to right they are: 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. Official NASA photograph.

On this day in aviation history in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was lost with all hands shortly after liftoff. The 7-strong crew of STS-51-L included:

-Mission Commander Lt.Col. Francis “Dick” Scobee, USAF, a former fighter and test pilot. He first flew into space on the Challenger on STS-41-C.
-Mission Pilot CAPT Michael “Mike” Smith, USN, a former attack and test pilot.
-Mission Specialist 1 Lt.Col. Ellison Onizuka, USAF, a former test pilot. He first flew into space on the Discovery on STS-51-C. Onizuka holds the distinction of being the first Asian American to reach space.
-Mission Specialist 2 Judith Resnik, a former engineer. She first flew into space on the maiden voyage of Discovery on STS-41-D.
-Mission Specialist 3 Ronald McNair, a former physicist. He first flew into space on Challenger on STS-41-B.
-Payload Specialist 1 Capt. Gregory “Greg” Jarvis, USAF, a former engineer.
-Payload Specialist 2 Christa McAuliffe, a former teacher. McAuliffe was chosen from over 11,000 applicants for NASA’s Teacher in Space Project to become the first teacher in space.

All were awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously.

We’ll continue our quest in space. There will be more shuttle flights and more shuttle crews and, yes, more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and our journeys continue.

I want to add that I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for NASA, or who worked on this mission and tell them: “Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know of your anguish. We share it.”

-President Ronald Reagan on the loss of Challenger and her crew


STS-51-L mission launch. Official NASA photograph.

About Ian D'Costa (240 Articles)
Ian is the editor-in-chief of the Tactical Air Network. His work has been republished and quoted in a number of publications, including The Toronto Star, Airsoc, Business Insider and The Aviationist. You can reach him at

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