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In January 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was scheduled to make its tenth launch. The six-day mission was responsible for deploying satellites in the hopes of improving the communication and observation of Halley's Comet. The Challenger crew consisted of seven people: Gregory B. Jarvis, Dr. Ronald E. McNair, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Ellison S. Onizuka, Dr. Judith A. Resnik, Francis "Dick" Scobee, Navy Commander Michael J. Smith, and Crista McAuliffe. McAuliffe, a schoolteacher, was going to be the first private citizen in space. She had plans to broadcast lessons about space to school children from the shuttle. Everyone was awaiting liftoff.
On the Saturday that was scheduled for takeoff, the flight was postponed due to poor conditions in emergency landing locations in Africa. On Sunday, the crew was faced with a second delay because of poor weather in Florida. Monday there were high winds, so again the launch was postponed. Finally, on Tuesday, January 28, 1986, the crew prepared for takeoff. Suddenly, after only 74 seconds in air, the shuttle exploded. All seven people on board of the Challenger were killed, the first casualties in 19 years of space travel.
It took two months to retrieve the remains of the crew from the ocean floor, and only Smith and Scobee were identifiable. On May 3, 1986, the pilot of the shuttle, Captain Smith was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His headstone contains his insignia: air wings and a comet. Scobee was buried on May 19, 1986, next to Pilot Michael J. Smith. The next day, the five other unidentified people were buried near Scobee and Smith.
On June 12, 1986, Congress passed a resolution to construct a memorial at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the Challenger crew. The family members of the dead and NASA decided to place it on top of the co-mingled remains. The memorial was dedicated on March 21, 1987.
"High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of -- wheeled and soared and swung
High into the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through the footless hall of air.
Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wingswept height with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew.
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The untrespassed sanctify of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
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