The Space Shuttle Challenger was the second orbiter that NASA placed into service. It performed its maiden space flight in 1983. The orbiter completed nine missions before the 1986 tragedy that claimed the lives of seven astronauts. The entire crew was lost when the orbiter exploded 73 seconds after lifting off the Kennedy Space Center launch pad in Florida. This accident marked the first time that American astronauts died during a flight.
The crew included Christa McAuliffe, an educator from New Hampshire. NASA chose her to become the first teacher in space. She was scheduled to conduct two classes from the orbiter. The remains of the crew were recovered from the seafloor two months after the accident and interred in Arlington National Cemetery. The Challenger Memorial marks the gravesite of the crewmembers whose remains couldn’t be identified.
The front of the memorial depicts the images and names of the crew along with a tribute to their courage. The reverse side is inscribed with the words of John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem entitled High Flight. The monument was erected after a joint resolution by Congress stating that a memorial marker should be placed in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the seven crewmembers. NASA and the family members of the astronauts decided to construct the memorial over the comingled gravesite. The monument was dedicated in March 1987.