Remembering the Challenger Disaster

According to Darren A. Thierry ’86, the black community at Harvard was particularly affected by the death of Mack’s mentor McNair, who was African-American.

As a member of Kappa Alpha Psi—a historically black fraternity chartered at MIT—during his time at Harvard, Thierry recalls that McNair had been a member of another MIT fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.

“I just remember talking to friends, saying, ‘Hey, there was a brother on that flight,’” Thierry remembers.

Likewise, many in the scientific community at Harvard mourned the loss of the astronauts.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan C. McDowell says that he and his colleagues identified with the astronauts who had been killed on the flight.


“For those of us who were following it, they were not just faceless astronauts,” he says. “They were people we knew a little about.”

But after the immediate shock had subdued, some College students began making “tasteless” jokes about the disaster, recalls Michael J. Youmans ’86.

The Crimson’s weekly magazine published a feature that questioned whether it was too soon to make light of the disaster. The piece received widespread criticism for its inclusion of many jokes.

“I remember it being an attempt at humor at a time of national tragedy. People turn to humor. It wasn’t a very proud moment,” says Ari Z. Posner ’86.


Although most students worked through their grief over the tragedy in the subsequent weeks, others experienced lasting changes in their career aspirations.

As the NASA shuttle program entered a 32-month hiatus in the wake of the explosion, Mack’s plans to enter the space program were instantly halted.

“I would have sent my application in right away,” she says. “But I didn’t apply because there was nothing to apply to.”

Mack recalls feeling a sense of sadness at the delay of her goal.

“Now I’ve seen real problems,” Mack says. “But at the time, I was disappointed because it threw off my big plan.”