June Scobee Rodgers remembers Challenger tragedy 30 years later - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

June Scobee Rodgers remembers Challenger tragedy 30 years later

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

It was supposed to be the greatest achievement of the United States space program.  On January 28, 1986, the shuttle Challenger blasted off, but 73 seconds later, it exploded, in full view of millions watching on live television.  

Seven crew members, including New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe lost their lives barely a minute after the launch of Challenger.  McAuliffe was to be the first of a teacher in space program, sharing lessons from where no teacher had ventured before.  

In the blink of an eye, families were devastated, and dreams were shattered.  June Scobee's husband of 26 years, Dick Scobee was the commander of the mission. She knows that for today's students, it seems like something out of a history book. She said, "But for those of us who were close to it lost husbands, sons, fathers, it is etched in our memory like it just happened. I was close to Christa, and wanted to keep her dreams alive.  Dick and I had been married since we were teens, and I know how important this mission was to him."

Since remarried, Dr. June Scobee Rodgers has spent the past thirty years carrying on her late husband's legacy.  In 1995, she founded the Challenger Center in Chattanooga. There are no forty others like it worldwide, reaching millions of children with simulated flights that teach science, "mission control style."  On this anniversary date, she looks back on the days after the tragedy, when even a trip to the supermarket triggered raw emotion.

She said, "I was carrying on as if nothing happened, just getting groceries, when I picked up ajar of peanut butter, and realized Dick no longer was with me. He loved peanut butter.  It was times like that I would just get on the floor and bawl, just cry, and wondered if I could really move on." 

But move on she did, as 110 more missions were launched, each without incident. Although the shuttle program was retired in 2011,  she says the space program is alive and flourishing in part, because of lessons learned thirty years ago.  It isn't easy to find a silver lining, even after all this time, but she believes Commander Scobee would be proud of her life's work.

She said, "That person is with you, always with you. He's in Heaven and i'll see him some day, and we'll see what he thinks about how I did."

She says the Challenger families remain close knit today, attending each other's family events like graduations and weddings, as well as serving on the Challenger center board of directors." Many of them reunited at a 30th anniversary memorial service at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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