Mark Alexander / January 28, 2016

Silver Linings — Challenger STS-51-L

On this day in 1986, the Challenger perished, but the wife of Command Pilot Dick Scobee has turned that tragedy into inspiration for the future.

This day, 28 January of 1986, was tragic for my friend June Scobee Rodgers and her family. On that sunny Florida morning, June, and the families of the other Challenger Space Shuttle crew members – Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and Ronald McNair, watched in disbelief as the spacecraft disintegrated after launch. I can’t imagine the anguish they experienced.

At T+68, June’s husband, Commander Dick Scobee confirmed, “Roger, go at throttle up” — the last communication she, and the nation, heard from Challenger. That evening, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation, saying, “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. 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.’”

In the years that followed, June has turned that tragedy into a triumph, honoring the loss of her beloved husband and his crew with the establishment of the Challenger Centers for Space Science Education. There are now 40 Challenger STEM learning centers across the nation inspiring countless young people toward careers in the sciences. I know few people who embody June’s level of character and unbridled optimism. You can read her story in a tribute I wrote in 2009, “A Silver Lining to Storms of Sorrow.” Watch an interview with June filmed this week about her experience that day.

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