It was a cool crisp January morning in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The viewing stands were crowded with friends and family of the shuttle astronauts, and the excitement grew as circumstances continued to stay clear for launch. The gleaming shuttle aimed vertically toward the heavens flanked by its two massive boosters. White vapor and flakes of ice drifted down the sides, formed by the liquified hydrogen and oxygen in the tanks. On board Challenger was the world's first privately-owned communication satellite, the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite, which with its rocket boosters weighed 37,636 pounds and cost $100 million.
A nation, as yet unjaded by spaceflight, watched as preparations were completed for the 25th shuttle mission into space - the 10th for the Challenger, and Frances Richard Scobee's first command and second mission. After three days of delays due to weather and a two-hour delay because of ice on the gantry and a failure in a fire-protection device, the shuttle Challenger was to finally lift into the sky with its crew of seven, including the first civilian in space. Many of her young students sat in the stands, faces excited - smiles beaming. The moment came, and Commander Disk Scobee gave the all-clear to the command center. As the shuttle leapt thundering into the air on a column of fire and white cloud, every eye followed the remarkable sight - a testament to mankind's achievement.
"Challenger, go with throttle up," said James D. Wetherbee of mission control in Houston at about 11:39 A. M.
"Roger," replied Scobee, "go with throttle up."
Without warning, 73.5 seconds after takeoff at 2,900 feet per second and ten miles above Earth's surface, the shuttle exploded. The smooth trail of the liftoff ended in a tangle of jagged streamers trailing back toward the Atlantic ocean far below. Excitement turned to questions, questions to disbelief, disbelief to horror, as it became clear that this was not supposed to be. Sobs and cries came from the viewing stands as the students of Christa McAuliffe looked around uncomprehendingly and the astronauts' families stood frozen with disbelief. The shuttle Challenger and its crew of seven had been lost.
Frances Richard Scobee Was born on May 19th, 1939 in Cle Elum, Washington, USA. After graduating from high school in 1957, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, training as a reciprocating engine mechanic but wanting to fly. He was stationed in Texas where he attended night school and earned two years of college credit, allowing him to receive an officer's commission. He was awarded a scholarship through the Airmen's Education and Commissioning Program.
He graduated from the University of Arizona in 1965 with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, and received his Air Force commission that year. He earned his Air Force wings in 1966, and received duty in Vietnam in 1967 where he served as a fighter pilot. Following his tour of duty in Vietnam, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
Following Vietnam, Scobee attended the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, and was assigned to numerous programs as a test pilot. In October and November of 1975, he logged two successful flights of the experimental X-24 lifting body - both to an estimated altitude of 13,720 meters. As an Air Force test pilot Scobee flew more than 45 types of aircraft, and logged more than 6,500 hours of flight time.
He was selected as an astronaut candidate in January of 1978 along with three of the other Challenger crew members. After a year's training, he qualified as a pilot for future space shuttle missions. His first mission in April 1984 was as pilot and second in command of the Challenger space shuttle. The mission, the retrieval, on-board repair and redeployment of the damaged Solar Maximum Satellite and flight testing of the Manned Maneuvering Units, was successful. That year, NASA honored him with the Space Flight medal and two Distinguished Service awards. During this time, he also served as an instructor pilot on the NASA/Boeing 747 piggyback shuttle carrier aircraft.
His second shuttle mission was as commander. On January 28, 1986, he perished with the six other Challenger crewmembers: the pilot Commander Michael J. Smith of the Navy; Dr. Judith A. Resnik; Dr. Ronald E. McNair; Lieut. Col. Ellison S. Onizuka of the Air Force; Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, teacher.
His remains are interred in the Arlington National Cemetery, and is survived by his wife, the former June Kent, and their children, Kathie Scobee Fulgham and Richard Scobee. June Scobee Rodgers founded and served as the Challenger Center's first Chairman. She is also the author of Silver Linings, an account of her life and work following the Challenger tragedy.
Dick Scobee was also my friend.
About two years before I met Dick, his wife June was helping me through a Geometry correspondence course on tuesday and thursday afternoons. I was a too-intelligent pre-teen who had already finished all the junior-high and high school math courses available, and the course was a way to allow me to go further while remaining in public school. June taught and worked in the educational psychology department at Texas A&M University, and was assigned to help me reach my full potential. June is an amazing person.
I attended a summer camp in Galveston, Texas a year or two later, in the "Space program" section. We learned about space, toured the back halls of NASA including a training shuttle not open to the general public, and generally did summer camp stuff. I met Dick at the end of camp. Because we were close to Johnson Space Center in Houston, he was able to come down and serve as a guest judge of our "egg toss" competition where we devised a cheap reusable launch vehicle designed to protect a raw egg, and competed to see who's would make it the farthest without scrambling the "pilot". My parents were down, met Dick (they already knew June), and they were invited out to our Texas ranch. They became good friends of our family.
A few months after the camp, I was invited to the Scobee's home in Houston for a week and my parents allowed me to go. Dick flew his small Cessna into the tiny airport near us to pick me up, and we headed out toward Houston. Once in the air, Dick taught me the controls and indicators, let me take the yoke, and coached me while I flew the tiny plane all the way to Houston airspace. It was the experience of a lifetime to have flight training from an accomplished pilot and astronaut! I spent the week with Dick and June. He showed me his F-16 fighter jet, let me sit in virtual training simulators, and let me follow him around with him as he went about his work at NASA.
Dick was a true friend, even to a young kid. He was at the same time imposing and approachable. He had a friendly smile and a gentle demeanor that instantly put people at ease around him. His open Texan genuineness made friends out of everyone he met. He never flaunted his amazing talents and unparalleled experiences, and his presence inspired confidence and comfort. He was truly a natural leader in every way.
We and our families stayed good friends as I began undergraduate studies at A&M. I took the elevator up once or twice a week to visit June in the Harrington Building on campus. In January of 1986, my senior year, I was sitting in an advanced biochemistry class on campus wishing class was over so I could get lunch. My family and I had been invited to the shuttle launch as special guests of the Scobees, but circumstances had not allowed us to be there. The well-spoken and stern instructor was interrupted by a teacher's assistant who walked in and began to whisper in his ear. The normally unshakable professor blanched and paused for several seconds, then announced that class was over, and informed us about the Challenger explosion.
The next few minutes were a blur as I half walked and half jogged toward the library, where the media center showed around-the-clock news. The loss to America was tremendous, and the blow to the space program terrible. The personal tragedies that the friends and families of those lost experienced was indescribable, and the memories of those lost, irreplacable. Our realities shattered on that day, some much more than others, and had to be rebuilt over time. Dick left behind a loving wife and amazing woman, and two wonderful children. He also left behind innumerable friends and one really sad teenage kid. I still miss him.
They slipped the surly bond of Earth and touched the face of God...