They Served on the Challenger Commission

The Men and Women Who Looked Into America’s Most Famous Space Disaster

The space shuttle Challenger exploded soon after takeoff on 28 January 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard.Among those seven was Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire schoolteacher who was to be NASA’s first “teacher in space.”

Seven Challenger crew members stand in blue NASA flight suits, holding helmets

The crew of the space shuttle Challenger. From left: Payload Specialists Christa McAuliffe and Gregory B. Jarvis, Mission Specialist Judith A. Resnik, Commander Francis R. Scobee, Mission Specialist Ronald E. McNair, Pilot Michael J. Smith, Mission Specialist Ellison S. Onizuka.

McAuliffe’s presence on the doomed flight, along with the live video of the explosion shown nationwide, shocked the public. One week later, President Ronald Reagan issued executive order 12546, establishing a presidential commission to investigate the Challenger disaster. Former Secretary of State William Rogers chaired the commission; he was joined by NASA’s most famous astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and a star-studded cast of scientists and space experts.

Four months later, the commission concluded that faulty O-rings on a solid booster rocket led to a chain reaction of events which doomed the Challenger. Members of the commission are listed below. For more details on the mission and the accident (including the full Rogers Commission report), see NASA’s own Shuttle Mission Archive.

Members of the Challenger Commission:
  • WILLIAM P. ROGERS: Chairman of the commission, former secretary of state under President Richard Nixon (1969-1973) and attorney general under President Dwight Eisenhower (1957-1961).
  • NEIL ARMSTRONG: Vice Chairman of the commission, former astronaut, commander of the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, and first man to walk on the moon.
  • Brigadier General CHUCK YEAGER, USAF (Retired): Former experimental test pilot and the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.
  • Dr. SALLY RIDE: Astronaut on shuttle missions STS-7 (launched on June 18, 1983) and 41-G (launched October 5, 1984) and the first American woman in space.
  • Dr. RICHARD FEYNMAN: 1965 Nobel Prize winner in Physics and professor at California Institute of Technology.
  • DAVID B. ACHESON: Former Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Communications Satellite Corporation (1967-1974).
  • Dr. EUGENE E. COVERT: Professor and head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • ROBERT B. HOTZ: Editor-in-chief of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine from 1953-1980.
  • Major General DONALD J. KUTYNA: USAF Director of Space Systems and Command, Control, Communications.
  • ROBERT W. RUMMEL: Space expert and aerospace engineer, and former Vice President of Trans World Airlines.
  • JOSEPH F. SUTTER: Aeronautical engineer and executive Vice President of the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company.
  • Dr. ARTHUR B.C. WALKER, Jr.: Astronomer and professor of Applied Physics at Stanford University.
  • Dr. ALBERT D. WHEELON: Executive Vice President, Hughes Aircraft Company and member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
  • Dr. ALTON G. KEEL, Jr.: Representative from the Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget.
For related space pioneers, see these profiles: Yuri GagarinValentina TereshkovaJohn Glenn, Laika the dog and Ham the chimp.

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