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



    • It says at the end of the article that the flag was going to be donated to the Smithsonian or the National Museum of the BSA. I know for a fact that neither happened as I’ve seen the flag twice since 2010, very much still in the care of Troop 514.

  1. Take a look at the 51-L mission patch and the 1989 Jamboree patch. NASA was supposed to have a huge presence at the Jamboree tied back to mission 51-L. After the Challenger explosion all we got was an outdated space station model in a tent in a very large, and otherwise empty field. Absolutely no mention of Challenger or 51-L.

  2. It is good to hear that the troop still has the flag and uses it on special ceremonies. Better than being in a museum warehouse. My son was just awarded his Eagle Scout Medal and NASA sent a very nice portfolio with a letter from the Administrator plus a very beautiful certificate. Scouting and Space Exploration are perfect together. By the way my son is studying Astronomy and Physics. See what I mean.

  3. Last I heard, it was still private property, and they were free to do as they pleased with it.
    and according to BSA rules troops cant own property so technically it belongs to the charting organization which is the Mormon Church.

  4. Thanks for including the Girl Scouts in your article. Girl Scouts of the USA is very proud to count every female austronaut from the United States as an alumnae of the Girl Scouts.

  5. Thank you for including Girl Scouts as “Scouts”. We are all Scouts in the world fellowship of Scouting.

    At our Eagle Courts of Honor, we invite everyone who has earned the top award in Scouting to come forward: Eagle, Gold Award, Aquila, and so on.

  6. Every time the Ubited States has lost Astronauts, we have buried Eagle Scouts.

    Elliot See was killed in a 1966 T-38 crash, he was assigned to Gemini 9.
    Roger Chafee was killed in the Apollo 1 fire.
    Ellison Onizuka was killed in the Challenger explosion.
    William McCool was killed in the Columbia explosion.

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