Space Shuttle Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger crew

After a loved one dies, we sometimes find signs and momentos that that bring us great comfort. These are especially meaningful when someone passes away unexpectedly. That is what the widow of Space Shuttle Challenger Commander Dick Scobee experienced when she found a Valentine’s Day card he’d bought for her.

Thirty-four years ago today, everyone seemingly hit pause to watch the Space Shuttle Challenger launch. It was an exciting time in American history that suddenly turned into grief and despair as the crew was lost in an instant. Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after lifting off at Cape Canaveral.

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Christa McAuliffe Was To Be The First Teacher In Space

School children throughout the country were watching as Christa McAuliffe was going to be the first teacher in space. We sat in horror as we saw these brave men and women lose their lives before they even left our atmosphere. McAuliffe’s own children and pupils were on site for the launch.

Dick Scobee’s Briefcase

The families of the astronauts were ushered into crew quarters as their excitement immediately transformed to shock and disbelief at losing their loved ones. The Scobee family found Dick’s briefcase. When they opened it, they were greeted with what would become some cherished treasures.

“My dad’s briefcase was in his room,” Kathie Scobee Fulgham told PEOPLE in January 2016, which marked the 30th anniversary of the tragedy. “Mom opened it. Among his personal belongings: a wallet, his keys, pictures of his family, shuttle souvenir pins, business cards, astronomy charts, flight manuals and an unsigned Valentine’s Day card for my mom. [There] was a scrap of paper bearing his handwriting.”

On that scrap of paper, Scobee  had a poignant quote from Ben Bova that brought special meaning after the tragic loss that day.

“We have whole planets to explore. We have new worlds to build,” Bova’s quote said. “We have a solar system to roam in. And if only a tiny fraction of the human race reaches out toward space, the work they do there will totally change the lives of all the billions of humans who remain on Earth, just as the striving of a handful of colonists in the new world totally changed the lives of everyone in Europe, Asia and Africa.”

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Americans still remember where they were decades later during this tragic event. It still can bring shivers down our spines thinking of all the emotions of that day. It was unlike anything we’d ever experienced.

A news report from the evening of the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy can be watched in the tweet below.

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