Four of the seven who died in Challenger explosion were Scouts

As we pause to remember the victims of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, it also seems an appropriate time to reflect on the Scouting connections to that ill-fated flight.

Four of the seven souls killed in the Challenger explosion, which happened Jan. 28, 1986, had Scouting pasts.

One of the victims, mission specialist Ellison Onizuka, was an Eagle Scout. The Hawaiian was also the first Asian-American in space.

Ronald McNair of South Carolina, another mission specialist, was a Star Scout. Two other specialists, Judith Resnik and Christa McAuliffe, were Girl Scouts.

An American flag that was carried on board and was one of the few items recovered from the wreckage, now belongs to a Boy Scout troop in Colorado that uses it for special events and Eagle Scout courts of honor.

As Boys’ Life explained in its July 1987 issue (see the clip below), Troop 514’s former Scoutmaster arranged to include the flag in the shuttle’s flight kit.

After the deadly explosion, most of the wreckage sank to the ocean floor. Nine months later, when divers searched the wreckage, they found a locker; inside was the American flag, still sealed in plastic and unharmed.

The flag was later declared official flag of the U.S. Constitution Bicentennial, and its story was documented in Gordan Ryan’s book Threads of Honor: The True Story of a Boy Scout Troop, Perseverance, Triumph and an American Flag.

Space Shuttle Challenger crew

  • Ellison Onizuka, mission specialist and Eagle Scout
  • Ronald McNair, mission specialist and Star Scout
  • Judith Resnik, mission specialist and Girl Scout
  • Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist and Girl Scout
  • Francis R. Scobee, commander
  • Michael J. Smith, pilot
  • Gregory Jarvis, payload specialist


About Bryan Wendell 3281 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.