- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The widow of Challenger’s commander laid a wreath of roses and carnations at a memorial honoring fallen astronauts yesterday, the 20th anniversary of the day when the space shuttle lifted off from a launch pad a few miles away and blew apart 73 seconds later.

June Scobee Rodgers, whose husband, Francis R. “Dick” Scobee, was the shuttle’s commander, recalled waiting for the launch that chilly morning with other family members of the crew, including 12 children.

“Our lives were shattered, but over the years that followed, the families persevered with tremendous success,” Mrs. Rodgers said. “I believe those parents launched aboard Challenger would be proud of their children.”

Seven astronauts died in the explosion, and the images of the shuttle’s bursting apart were replayed over and over to a shocked nation.

Yesterday, about 250 people joined a ceremony at Kennedy Space Center to honor Mr. Scobee, pilot Michael J. Smith, astronauts Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair and Gregory B. Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, who was supposed to be the first teacher in space.

Mrs. Rodgers, along with NASA associate administrator Bill Gerstenmaier, laid the wreath at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial, a tall granite-finished wall engraved with the names of the Challenger astronauts, the seven astronauts — Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and Ilan Ramon — killed when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, and the three Apollo 1 astronauts — Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee — killed in a fire during the Jan. 27, 1967, launch pad test.

The audience included some relatives of the Columbia and Apollo 1 crews, as well as the widows of Mr. Smith and Mr. Onizuka.

“I have lived around the space program my whole life, and it’s a fitting tribute for those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” said Susan Valek, who works for a Kennedy Space Center contractor.

Two ceremonies in the Washington area honored the Challenger crew: One at the Challenger Memorial Plaque at Arlington National Cemetery at 11:38 a.m., the time the space shuttle launched, and another at the National Air and Space Museum, which will receive a laserdisc that was aboard the orbiter during its last mission.

The No Greater Love organization donated the disk, embedded with thousands of signatures from children who signed a global Pledge of Peace.

The Challenger explosion eventually was blamed on a poorly designed gasket in one of the shuttle’s solid fuel boosters. The gasket hardened in cold weather.

The temperature at Challenger’s liftoff was 36 degrees. Engineers for a NASA contractor had protested launching at that temperature, but their managers overruled them under perceived pressure from the space agency.

“It is our responsibility, individually and collectively, to make good decisions,” Mr. Gerstenmaier told the audience in Florida. “As engineers, the machines we build can do great things but can also cause great harm.”

Mrs. Rodgers said the Challenger accident hadn’t changed her opinion about the importance of space exploration.

“Without risk, there’s no discovery, there’s no new knowledge, there’s no bold adventure,” she said. “The greatest risk is to take no risk.”

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