Blogs  |  1.26.2023

Honoring the Challenger Crew 37 Years Later

January 28, 2023, marks 37 years since we tragically lost the beloved Challenger STS-51L crew. On this day and every day, we remember Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee; Pilot Michael J. Smith; Mission Specialists Judith A. Resnik, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Ronald E. McNair; Payload Specialist Gregory B. Jarvis; and Teacher-in-Space, Payload Specialist Christa McAuliffe.

The crew was part of the first Teacher in Space Project; the NASA program, announced by President Ronald Reagan in 1984, designed to inspire students, honor teachers, and spur interest in math, science, and space exploration.

After the tragedy in 1986, the Challenger families came together to create Challenger Center as a living tribute to the crew and to continue their educational mission. Over the past three decades, we have inspired nearly 6 million students around the world through our STEM programs. The crew’s spirits live on in this new generation of explorers and scientists.

“The memories of our beloved Challenger crew live on each day through the work of Challenger Center,” said Dr. June Scobee Rodgers, founding chair of Challenger Center, and widow of Challenger Commander Dick Scobee. “It’s incredible to see that 37 years later, we have kept that mission alive, that there are Challenger Center students in the workforce, and new ones being inspired in our Centers each day.”

Challenger Center Alumni Stories

Many Challenger Center alumni say that participating in a Challenger Center Mission was the experience that set them on the path to pursuing STEM careers:

France Jackson
User Experience Researcher, Intel Corp.

France credits her decision to become an engineer to the experiences she had at the Challenger Learning Center of Richland County School District One. She says, “I am not sure I would be an engineer if it were not for the hands-on experiences I was able to engage in while at the Center. I definitely consider the Center and my experience there a major event in my life that I often look back on and consider its profound impact.”

Adam Wuerl
Director of Advanced Concepts and Strategy,
Blue Origin

Adam remembers his visit to the Challenger Learning Center at the Museum of Flight as a pivotal moment to realize that working in the space industry was a very real opportunity. He shared, “My Challenger Learning Center experience is my earliest memory of a hands-on space activity that bridged the gap between a subject I’d always been interested in and realizing it was a thing I could do for a living.”

Erin Burba
Embedded Engineer, Impact Biosystems

Erin grew up with a healthy encouragement to pursue STEM, but couldn’t clearly picture herself in the field. She said, “Visiting the Challenger Learning Centers in Radcliffe and Paducah, Kentucky, helped make a STEM career an actionable plan. An astronaut or engineer or scientist wasn’t an intangible dream or movie character; it was a person who used skills. Making those connections in my mind helped with plotting a path forward.”

Continuing to Help Students Reach for the Stars

Challenger Center and its network of more than 35 Challenger Learning Centers provide hands-on STEM experiences to students around the world. Our two newest Centers opened last summer:

As we continue looking to the future, we are filled with excitement as Challenger Learning Centers offer brand new Center Missions and as we prepare to welcome additional communities to join our network.

Additionally, Challenger Center has developed Classroom Adventures to be delivered by teachers in classrooms and Virtual Missions delivered by Flight Directors to students in virtual, hybrid, or socially distanced settings. These programs give the organization an opportunity to ignite the potential in more students than ever before.

“As we reflect on the past 37 years, we are proud of the progress Challenger Center has made in carrying on the educational mission of the Challenger crew,” said Challenger Center President and CEO Lance Bush, Ph.D. “We remain dedicated to providing students of all backgrounds with STEM programming that will ignite their potential and build a workforce pipeline of STEM leaders and innovators of the future.”