In this series of file photos from Jan. 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP)

Barbara Morgan remembers.

She remembers Mike Smith, the pilot who taught her barrel rolls — whose trust, she said, set her free. She remembers Francis R. Scobee, the "deep and poetic thinker" who showed her how a true leader behaves.

And she remembers Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher astronaut, who made time to write college recommendations for students, even as the space shuttle Challenger launch approached.

"Courage is contagious," Morgan told a crowd that gathered in Florida on Thursday, as she recalled what she had learned from the Challenger crew. "Courage is shared. Courage is much more than bravery and boldness, because courage lives in the heart."

Morgan, the teacher chosen as McAuliffe's backup for the ill-fated space flight, was among the speakers at a ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. The event was part of NASA's annual day of remembrance, which honors all of the agency's fallen astronauts, a group that also includes the crews of Apollo 1 and the Columbia shuttle.

Five astronauts and two payload specialists were killed in the Challenger tragedy. The shuttle exploded less than two minutes into its Jan. 28, 1986, flight — a disaster that was captured on television.

"The Challenger crew were wonderful, wonderful people," Morgan said. "Wonderful human beings."


In this 1985 photo, teacher Christa McAuliffe rides with her children Caroline and Scott in a parade down Main Street in Concord, N.H. (Jim Cole/AP)

Family members of some of the astronauts attended Thursday's ceremony in Florida, including McAuliffe's son, who was just 9 when the explosion occurred. Other finalists for the Teacher in Space program were also in the audience.

Events were also scheduled at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

30 years ago, the Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch while CNN broadcasted on live television. All seven crew members were killed. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Three NASA astronauts — Roger Chaffee, Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Ed White — were killed in a launchpad fire during testing of the Apollo 1 capsule on Jan. 27, 1967.

Seven astronauts were killed Feb. 1, 2003, when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated above the United States as it returned to Earth.

"The Columbia is lost," President George W. Bush said at the time. "There are no survivors."

Killed in the Challenger explosion were Scobee, Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis and McAuliffe, the New Hampshire high school teacher who had been selected as the "first private citizen in space."

Her parents were watching from the grandstand area that morning; her children and husband were on the Launch Control Center roof.

Here's how Kathy Sawyer described the aftermath at Kennedy Space Center in The Washington Post:

The rumbling sounds from the sky gradually died away. The scattered screams and shouts died. The immediate families of the astronauts were escorted quickly away to the crew quarters. Other relatives and visitors were urged onto the buses that had brought them to the scene.

Then this stretch of Kennedy Space Center along an Atlantic Ocean beach was overwhelmed in silence.

And here's a look at the front page from the next day:

Challenger Front page

 

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