Space: They Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth to Touch the Face of God

In 73 seconds, a new era in space travel explodes into a searing nightmare


    Jan. 28, 1986 TIME Cover: Space Shuttle Challenger

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    In the communities where the crew members were raised or lived, friends and family members gathered to try to draw meaning from the tragedy. Seven black ( balloons were released at Framingham State College in Massachusetts, where McAuliffe had earned her bachelor of arts degree. A memorial service in the college auditorium on Thursday afternoon was attended by her parents, holding hands in the front row, and more than 1,000 friends, faculty and students. "Christa McAuliffe is infinite because she is in our hearts," said Charles Sposato, a Framingham high school teacher. At Temple Israel in Akron, Governor Richard Celeste of Ohio told Judy Resnik's parents and friends, "She knew she would be at home in space. And she was. And she is." At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, where Ron McNair studied physics, the choir sang old spirituals, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a fellow alumnus, told the congregation that McNair "belongs to the ages now."

    On Saturday the sad sound of bugles blowing taps rolled across the site from which the astronauts had climbed so joyfully, but so briefly, into the air. Employees of the Kennedy Space Center held a memorial service near the stands where the schoolchildren had watched the lift-off. A helicopter then carried a wreath of white chrysanthemums and seven red carnations two miles out to sea and dropped them into the gray water.

    Almost immediately, sympathetic Americans moved to create a wide variety of memorial funds. One group of Washington attorneys and bankers set up a trust to provide for the children of the crew members; among those who pledged donations were kindergarten classes in Florida and Maine, two California songwriters and a bank in Hawaii. (The McAuliffe family is already the beneficiary of a $1 million life insurance policy, donated before the accident by a Washington, insurance brokerage company.) The National Education Association began to collect for a program that will seek to honor McAuliffe by financing "pioneering" projects by teachers as well as scholarships to encourage gifted people to enter the profession. And school children around the country began sending nickels and dimes to NASA to help replace the shuttle, which will cost an estimated $2 billion. (NASA says it will decide later how to use the contributions.)

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