FSU Remembers: 25th Anniversary of the Challenger Shuttle Disaster

By: FSU News Release
By: FSU News Release

Jan. 28 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in which all eight astronauts on board, including schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff. The disaster became a “where were you when?” moment for a generation, especially for schoolchildren — now adults — who were gathered in classrooms across the nation to watch live on television as McAuliffe made history. Florida State University experts are available to answer questions and provide historical perspective on this national tragedy.

* Sally Karioth, professor of nursing and Certified Traumatologist, (850) 644-6845; sallykarioth@yahoo.com
Karioth, a nationally recognized grief, trauma and stress expert, can address the ways in which the nation grieved in the aftermath of the explosion and what we have learned about helping children cope in the wake of such tragedies:

“There is really no time limit on remembered traumatic responses. Those of us old enough can pinpoint where we were when JFK was assassinated, when we heard about Princess Diana, 9/11, Katrina and the Challenger disaster. The Challenger disaster is especially poignant as there were millions of school children watching. The adults who sat with these children and watched the disaster unfold on TV were horrified. They became responsible for explanations to the children at a level they could understand., when in fact the adults couldn't understand it themselves. We as a nation have these collective griefs that we share. It is comforting to know that others saw what we saw, felt as we did and understand when we tell our own stories; they will understand because they, too, were there.”

* Deana Rohlinger, associate professor of sociology, (850) 644-2493; drohling@fsu.edu
Rohlinger, who studies the sociology of mass media and collective behavior and social movements, can discuss how the media emphasis on drama and tragedy and the increased speed of the news cycle makes it difficult to collectively remember the past; how the way in which media frames tragedies influences the potential for commemoration; and how public figures use tragedies for their own purposes and, consequently, how some tragedies lend themselves better for such rhetoric:

“Media coverage of the Challenger disaster changed how NASA communicates with Americans today. NASA’s initial unwillingness to explain what had caused the explosion and its seemingly blasé attitude regarding the loss of life outraged the public, particularly since thousands of schoolchildren had watched the disaster live in their classroom. The mainstream media put NASA's feet to the fire and forced the organization to learn the basics of public relations.”

* Ronald Doel, associate professor of history, (850) 644-5888; rdoel@fsu.edu (Note: Professor Doel will be out of the country Jan. 24-28 but is available until Jan. 23.)
Doel teaches the history of recent science and is actively involved in Arctic and polar research, including interdisciplinary and internationally comparative research activities. In addition, he was in a NASA facility, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, on the day the Challenger exploded, and has some very strong memories of that event that he could share:

“Historians and sociologists have certainly studied the incident as an example of how technological systems fail, and there are larger lessons for not only STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields but the importance of integrating humanities/social science/natural science perspectives: that is, why the campus matters.”

* Lawrence Scharmann, assistant dean of the College of Education, director of the college’s School of Teacher Education, and the university’s Anne and John Daves Professor of Education, (850) 644-4880; lscharmann@fsu.edu
Scharmann has a background in science-teacher education and biological science:

“Points of discussion might be a sense of lost idealism and mortality for the power of the space program to generate unbridled enthusiasm.”

* Jesse Cougle, assistant professor of psychology, (850) 645-8729; cougle@psy.fsu.edu
Cougle studies reactions to stressful situations and can address trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder:

“These types of commemorations can be helpful for people who lost those close to them. It can make them feel as if the legacy of the departed lives on. It can also be perspective-building in that their focus is turned towards more important things. It can draw them closer to friends and family.”

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