Hundreds gathered at NASA's launch site Friday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, receiving words of hope from the widow of the space shuttle's commander.
The chilly outdoor ceremony drew space agency managers, former astronauts, past and present launch directors, family and friends of the fallen crew -- and schoolchildren who weren't yet born when the space shuttle carrying a high school teacher from Concord, N.H., erupted in the sky.
The accident on Jan. 28, 1986 -- just 73 seconds into flight -- killed all seven on board, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe.
June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of Challenger's commander, Dick Scobee, urged the crowd to "boldly look to the future" not only in space travel, but in space and science education. She was instrumental in establishing the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.
"The entire world knew how the Challenger crew died," she said. "We wanted the world to know how they lived and for what they were risking their lives."
Rodgers and NASA's space operations chief, Bill Gerstenmaier, placed a memorial wreath of red, white and blue-tinted carnations at the base of the Space Mirror Memorial. The 42-foot-tall slab of granite bears the names of all 24 astronauts killed in the line of duty over the years -- 17 of those in U.S. spacecraft.
Kathryn Serene drove four hours from Savannah, Ga., in the wee hours of Friday to attend the 9 a.m. ceremony. She brought a homemade basket bearing a paper model space shuttle, red, white and blue silk flowers, and a large red apple, which she left at the base of the memorial. She was in middle school when the accident occurred. She said she wanted to pay her respects all these years later.
Erik Volk hadn't been born yet. Neither were his fellow fifth-graders from Espiritu Santo Catholic School in Safety Harbor, Fla., on the west coast. The 60 students were at an overnight space camp Thursday, and the chaperones rearranged the schedule once they learned of the ceremony.
"Remember the teacher? What I said about the teacher?" prompted his father, Joe Volk. "Yes. She was going to give classes from space," said the boy, holding a yellow rose.
Erik, 10, said he was there "to remember the lives that were lost."
The crew included commander Scobee; co-pilot Michael Smith; Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian-American in space; Judith Resnik, the second American woman in space; Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space; McAuliffe; and Gregory Jarvis, a graduate of the University at Buffalo.
Erik waited in a long line to place his long-stemmed rose in the white grated fence around the memorial. Each guest did the same, and the fence soon was festooned with flowers.
At the high school in Concord where McAuliffe taught, special assemblies were held Friday in her honor. Other anniversary events took place across the country.