This Day in Texas History: Texas Astronaut Killed as Space Shuttle Explodes

This Day in Texas History:
(from the Texas State Historical Association archives)

Texas Astronaut Killed as Space Shuttle Explodes

January 28, 1986

On this day in 1986, the world watched in horror as the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. Seven American astronauts were killed, including Texas resident Judith Arlene Resnik. She was the second American woman astronaut and had taken her first space flight in August 1984 aboard the orbiter Discovery.

As a result of the failure of an O-ring in the right solid rocket booster, Challenger broke apart in a violent explosion 73 seconds after liftoff.  There were no survivors.

The crew included Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik.  This flight made history with Christa McAuliffe being the first participant in the ill-fated Teacher in Space Project.  There would not be another flight that included a teacher until 2007.

As a result of McAuliff’s involvement, media coverage of the liftoff was extensive.  Research showed 85% of Americans surveyed had heard of the catastrophe within an hour of the explosion.

crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.
crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.
Judith Resnik
Judith Resnik


, JUDITH ARLENE RESNIK (1949–1986). Judith Arlene Resnik, scientist, astronaut, and the second American woman to travel in space, was born in Akron, Ohio, on April 5, 1949, the daughter of Marvin and Sarah (Polen) Resnik. She lived in Texas from 1978 until 1986 while training and working at theLyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston. Although her parents were first-generation Jewish immigrants from Russia and she attended Hebrew schools, Resnik did not practice Judaism. After her parents were divorced when she was seventeen, she lived with her father until entering Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where she received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1970. Seven years later she earned a doctorate in the same field from the University of Maryland. Resnik was employed by the Radio Corporation of America as a design engineer in New Jersey and Virginia in the early 1970s. Before joining NASA, she also served as a biomedical engineer at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and as a senior systems engineer for Xerox Corporation in California. In 1970 she was married to Michael Oldak, whom she met at Carnegie-Mellon; they were divorced before she joined NASA. Her organizational affiliations included the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of University Women, and the Society of Women Engineers.

Resnik applied to NASA in 1977 and entered the astronaut-training program with thirty-five others in Houston in January 1978. This group included the first six women picked to participate in NASA flight preparation. After her training Resnik worked on orbiter development for the space administration and also served as a technical commentator for network television coverage of the 1982 flight of the space shuttle Columbia. In August 1984, a year after Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space, Resnik made her first space flight, as a mission specialist on the seven-day maiden flight of the orbiter Discovery. Throughout her tenure at NASA, she was an expert in the use of the robot arm on shuttle flights, which was operated from within the aircraft to perform tasks outside of them. Her second space flight was in 1986 on the Challenger, where she was again assigned to be a mission specialist. She and the other six crew members of this flight were killed when the Challenger exploded soon after takeoff on January 28, 1986. She was a classical pianist, pilot, and avid sportswoman. She was survived by her parents and one brother.

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