28 years later: Space Shuttle Challenger photos you’ve never seen

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(HLN) – Michael Hindes was looking through some old boxes of photographs at his grandparents’ house when he came across images of what appeared to be a normal shuttle launch. As he flipped through them, he and his family had what he called an “overwhelming moment” of realization.

They were photos of the 1986 Challenger disaster, as it happened.

Hindes’ grandfather, Bill Rendle, worked as a contractor for NASA years ago, and Hindes says Rendle got to see “just about every launch.” The images were given to Rendle by a friend who also worked for NASA. Rendle showed the pictures to others, but as time passed, they were shuffled among other photographs and forgotten.

When Hindes’ grandmother died recently in Quincy, Massachusetts, the family decided to organize photos for her memorial, and that’s when they came across the Challenger pictures. Hindes said his grandfather was overcome. “His face dropped when he saw the photos.”

In 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded upon launch, killing the seven crew members on board. Christa McAuliffe, one of the crew members, was to be the first teacher in space. The set of 26 images starts with the launch, the shuttle, the takeoff and ends with unforgettable plumes of white smoke against a blue January sky.

Hindes shared the images on Reddit, and users flocked to express their appreciation for the historical images. More than a few participants recalled memories of where they were when the tragedy occurred.

“I was in kindergarten living in Florida when Challenger went up. I was pretty young but I remember that it was a very nice day out,” said Reddit user Bonte. “The teachers took all of the kids out to the playground to watch the launch. When we saw the explosion we didn’t know what exactly we saw, it just ‘stopped’ in the sky.”

“These people were some of the best minds and bodies that we could offer to the stars, and yet they died. They rode the most sophisticated vehicles ever, and those vehicles crumbled and burned before our very eyes,” wrote user LordQuagga, adding that “no astronaut’s death has ever, or need ever be in vain. Every death has taught us something new about our technology, practices and our resolve. Every flight into space is one more to teach us about the universe; every single one matters.”

Hindes himself commented that seeing the pictures for the first time had a particular effect on him, since he also bore witness to the tragedy.

“I watched this happen live on TV in with my class in fourth grade, and anyone who knows what that was like also knows that it’s something that will stick with you forever.”


  • Debra

    wow – I remember watching the video footage over and over on the news when this tragedy happened, and seeing these photos makes me feel as stunned and sad as I did then.

  • lonnie93041

    I was in the Navy and my ship was in San Diego. I reported on board at 7am and passed through the mess decks (dining area) and everyone’s eyes were glued to the big screen tv and the explosion was playing over and over. It was my 29th birthday. Shocked and saddened doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  • Earl Trammel

    Very ironic for myself to see new images from this fateful day. In 2008 I met a man who, later became my best friend and roommate. In 2009 I had a medical emergency and, if it had not been for Robert I would have died within the hour. As fate would have it, I was able to return the favor two years later when Robert had his own medical problem as I was able to act fast to save his life. Again fate stepped in and Robert passed away on January 28, 2013 from heart failure. Robert A.M. Stephens was an Independent Contractor for NASA and one of his assingnments was as an SRB recovery diver for the Shuttle program where he contracted an unknown heart virus which led to CHF. Robert was also an Archeologist as well an artist in the NASA Art Program. Robert was at KSC on Jan. 28, 1986 for the liftoff of Challenger. The woman he was dating at the time was Dr. Resnick. The irony and fate of Robert still continues for me….. (copies of some of paintings can be found at NASA.com and his FB page)

    • Mindy Peach

      Hi Earl……I was standing in my livingroom watching this lift off and really did not know what was happening seeing it. Sadly, a week later my dear, loving stepson Garrison Langworthy Peach died in a car accident while on his way to pick up his girlfriend in Delaware. This was truly an extremely tragic time for all of America, you and myself.

      • Earl

        Thank you, Mindy, for sharing. Irony and fate….I guess we are where and who we are with for a reason. Myself and Robert’s fiance’ (also his HS sweetheart; found each other again after 40 yrs.) are still experiencing the irony concerning Robert. Great adventure for both of us!…….”It will all work out in the end” ….. RAMS, quoted many times.

  • Debbie

    I was at work. We built cables for the solid rocket boosters. I was so saddened by this. I remember they called and shut everything down so they could backtrack all of the work that was done on her. It’s still hard for me to see these pictures. My heart still goes out to those families and to all who worked on Challenger.

  • Rita

    Had just come home from nursing school for a break and saw the launch live. Could not believe what was appearing live in front of my eyes.

  • Daniel

    I remember this, I was so upset, many things can go wrong with those machines, sorry for our losses. I still want to go into space. hopefully in one of those crafts that I have seen flying through our atmosphere, since I have been a child

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