It was 27 years ago Monday that the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of all of its seven crew members.
Challenger was launched at 11:38 a.m. and at 11:39 a.m., Challenger exploded. Within two minutes, all of its crew were dead. The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program.
The cabin compartment of Challenger was found on the ocean floor on March 7, with the remains of the crew inside.
Although launches from Cape Kennedy/Cape Canaveral had become commonplace the last two decades, this particular launch had gained massive media attention.
Millions across the U.S. viewed the launch live because of the presence of crew member Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the "Teacher in Space Project" and the (planned) first female teacher in space. She was designated a payload specialist.
One study done after the disaster reported that 85 percent of Americans surveyed had heard the news within an hour of the accident. Many watched it live, just like I did.
But for Northeast Ohio, all eyes were on Challenger to watch Akron native Dr. Judith Resnik soar into space for a second time. Northeast Ohio, home to NASA Glenn Research, has always had a keen interest in the space program.
Resnik became the second woman in space, behind Sally Ride who flew into the history books in 1983. Starting Aug. 30, 1984, Resnik spent a week in space on the Space Shuttle Discovery. That made her the first Jewish American woman in space.
Challenger was her second mission into the beyond.
Resnik graduated from Firestone High School in Akron in 1966. She went on to get her bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1970, and a doctorate in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1977.
She was determined to do everything she could possiblv do. She was the only girl among 16 students to have perfect scores on her SATs in high school.
She was a classical pianist and a gourmet cook. We saw her smiling face as she boarded Challenger, giving a wave of her hand.
McAuliffe and Resnik died with the rest of the crew: Dr. R. E. McNair and Lieutenant Colonel E. S. Onizuka (U.S. Air Force), civilian payload specialist G.B. Jarvis; Commander M.J. Smith (U.S. Navy), the pilot; and F.R. Scobee, the spacecraft commander.
Reports say Resnik was carrying a ring for her nephew and a heart-shaped locket for her niece when she died.
One of the items on my own personal "bucket list" is to see a launch from the Space Coast.
Two years ago, on the 25th anniversary, former WKYC reporter Amanda Barren wrote about Resnik.
Barren said that Resnik's picture hangs in Firestone's Alumni Hall of Fame. "Her accomplishments are clear, but one thing remains a mystery," Barren said. "Flowers arrive each year on the week of the Challenger disaster. No one knows who sends them."
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the two other major disasters that claimed the lives of U.S. astronauts, especially since one just had its own 45th anniversary on Sunday.
It was Jan. 27, 1967 when Apollo 1 caught fire on the launch pad, killing all three astronauts -- Gus Grissom, Edward White II and Roger Chaffee.
And it was the Space Shuttle Columbia's disintegration upon re-entry over the southwestern U.S. on Feb. 1, 2003, that claimed the lives of five American astronauts and two other astronauts -- Rick D. Husband, William McCool, Michael P. Anderson, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel B. Clark and Ilan Ramon.
But those of us in Northeast Ohio still hold Resnik near and dear to our hearts. After all, she was one of our own.