The claim: There was no deadly Challenger space shuttle explosion
At 11:38 a.m. on Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger space shuttle lifted off with seven people on board. Less than two minutes later, the shuttle exploded, killing the entire crew.
Some conspiracy theorists, however, claim that isn't what happened at all.
"No NASA challenger rocket blew up with people on it," reads a Nov. 28 Instagram post (direct link, archived link), which was liked more than 70 times in a week. "You all got scammed for billions is what happened ... and brainwashed while scammed."
The post includes two images, one of Francis Richard Scobee, the commander of the Challenger, and another of a visibly older man identified as Richard Scobee, who the post says is the CEO of Cows In Trees. The post is suggesting Scobee survived the Challenger disaster, purported proof that it never happened.
But the claim is false. Many people saw the disaster live on television, including millions of students watching in classrooms across the country. The remains of all seven crewmembers, including Scobee, were recovered and positively identified, according to The New York Times.
USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.
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Millions watched Challenger disaster happen live on television
Brian Odom, NASA's chief historian, told USA TODAY that "the Challenger accident did indeed occur on January 28, 1986, causing the deaths of the crew."
The disaster unfolded live on CNN, still a fledgling network at the time, and about 2.5 million students watched it from their classrooms because one crewmember, Christa McAuliffe, was set to become the first teacher to go to space.
Then-President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to deliver his State of the Union address that night, but he chose instead to give a four-minute speech reflecting on the disaster and eulogizing the crewmembers.
It took about two months to recover the remains of the crew from the ocean floor, but on May 20, 1986, the commingled cremated remains of some of the astronauts were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
A presidential commission was tasked with investigating the cause of the accident. The resulting Rogers Commission Report explained the technical causes for the explosion – an O-ring seal had failed at launch – "as well as systemic organizational and cultural elements that led to the decision to launch Challenger on that day," according to a history of the Challenger disaster compiled by NASA.
In September 1988, NASA resumed space shuttle flights following a 32-month hiatus in the wake of the Challenger disaster.
PolitiFact also debunked the claim.
Our rating: False
Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that there was no deadly Challenger space shuttle explosion. Challenger broke apart shortly after liftoff and all seven people on board were killed. The images in the post are of two different people with similar names. Many people saw the explosion happen live on television, including millions of students. The remains of the crewmembers were recovered and positively identified.
Our fact-check sources:
Brian Odom, Dec. 5, Email exchange with USA TODAY
NASA, Jan 28, 2021, 35 Years Ago: Remembering Challenger and Her Crew
CNN, accessed Dec. 7, 1986: Space Shuttle Challenger explosion
Education Week, Feb. 5, 1986, TV Brought the Trauma to Classroom Millions
Arlington National Cemetery, accessed Dec. 7, Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial
LinkedIn, accessed Dec. 7, Richard Scobee
NASA, accessed Dec. 7, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee (Lt. Col., U.S. Air Force, Ret.) NASA Astronaut (Deceased)
CNN, March 31, 2016, When a national disaster unfolded live in 1986
PBS, Jan. 28, 2016, President Reagan’s speech to a nation reeling after Challenger disaster
NASA, accessed Dec. 7, Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident
NASA, Oct. 5, 2012, Engineer Who Opposed Challenger Launch Offers Personal Look at Tragedy
PolitiFact, Nov. 28, Conspiracy theory about the NASA’s Challenger space shuttle is still wrong
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Seven people died in the space shuttle Challenger disaster