Space Shuttle Challenger

Emrik Milis, Guest Writer

He’s gone now, just like that. One moment everything seemed fine, and the next, my heart tore into pieces. He should not have replaced me, but he did, and I stand here, alive and well, because of his bravery and willingness to take my place.


At ten years old, thirty years ago, my story began. I, Timothy Edwards, grew up having a reputation of troublemaking in my small town of Beaufort, North Carolina; I would always run away from home, get in trouble at school, and talk back to my parents when they gave me chores. My rebellious attitude and defiant actions were fueled by a desire to do what people told me not to, and what others told me I couldn’t do. This mindset sparked an idea that would change the course of my life: I, Timothy, will do what nobody before me has done, I will go to space.


As a young mischievous boy, I felt like nobody understood me, my philosophy, or passion to do what people thought impossible. This remained my reality until in my eighth grade year of school, I became friends with Michael J. Smith. Mike and I quickly grew fond of each other’s company and learned that we had a lot in common. In fact, we had practically identical personalities, however, our desire to explore space and the wonders that lie beyond the stars held our friendship together the most. So we did just that, we embarked on this journey together. We decided to stay out of trouble, raise our grades, and pursue our dreams. We were to making them reality.


By the end of senior year of high school, Mike and I had our pilot’s licenses. I graduated top of my class, and Mike followed close behind. The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland accepted us and we received our Bachelor of Science degrees in Naval Science. Together, we completed our master’s degrees in Aeronautical Engineering at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. We lived together and came closer to our dream every single day that passed. After earning our masters, Mike and I decided join the military and become pilots in Vietnam to serve our country and to train to become prestige pilots. The friendship Mike and I had, flourished as we stumbled through life together, not knowing what the next day held.


After Vietnam, we returned to the U.S. and entered Naval Test Pilot School. I have always hated school and learning, but this was it. The final step of the process. One day while studying in the library, I ran into Sarah L. Banks, a beautiful young woman. I never believed in love at first sight until I met Sarah, she was truly a sight to behold. She’s the one, I thought over and over again. A few months later, right before graduating from the pilot school, I proposed to her and we got married.


NASA accepted Mike and I for the NASA astronaut program after we applied in 1980.

“Mike! Mike! Did you hear the news? We got accepted!” I yelled across the room after reading the letter I received from NASA.

“I did Timmy! We made it! We are going to space!” He replied.

It was truly a dream come true. After so many years of training and preparing, we were finally qualified enough to join the program that would take us into space, and make it possible for the little boys who still lived deep inside our hearts to explore the stars.


Over the next five years, Mike and I worked in various capacities in the agency, focusing on flight operations, night landings, and other areas. We met some of the smartest and most profound people in science who helped develop and build space shuttles.


At the end of our training, we were given the date of our first mission, January 26, 1986. We impatiently counted down the days till the day we got to take off. Unfortunately, Mike and I were both pilots, and this particular mission, only needed one pilot. Mike’s was assigned to the Space Shuttle Mission 61-N, scheduled to launch in the fall of 1986. And I was going to be the pilot on STS-51L, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.


About a month before my mission, I became very ill and once in the hospital, doctors diagnosed me with Pancreatic Cancer. I was absolutely devastated and so was Mike. However, I was not going to let my life hold back Mike from achieving his childhood dream. Cancer made me ineligible for my mission in January, so NASA decided that Mike was qualified to take my place.


January 26, 1986 finally arrived and all of us were ecstatic for the launch. We all arrived at the launch site extra early and Mike was immediately rushed to get prepared for take-off. I saw him once again right before he and his team were taken to the Space Shuttle Challenger and boarded the space ship.

“Hey Mike, how are you feeling buddy?”

“I’m feeling great man. To be honest I’m a little nervous but I can not wait to be up there. It’s going to be something else. Can you imagine, all these years, and now we are finally here!” Mike replied.

“Yeah.” I said, “We are finally here. I just wish I could be by your side. We made it here together, through thick and thin, we got through. And now I’m stuck on the ground while your dream is about to come true. It sucks but at the same time I couldn’t be happier for you. Just be safe. I’ll be right here when you get back.”

“Tim, I can not explain how much you mean to me. You’re my brother and the way you’ve helped me and believed in me all this time means the world to me. I’m sure you too will soon get to experience what it feels like to be in space. Get better soon Timmy.”


After saying our goodbyes, my wife and I waited at mission control and impatiently watched the timer count down. Many computers and screens displayed live video footage of the space shuttle from all sorts of angles and others of the Mike and his crew on the inside of the shuttle. People were whispering and frantically getting last minute things done. Tension in the room grew as the timer neared the final ten seconds and we all held our breath. I heard a loud voice saying, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. We have lift-off,” the voice stated as the shuttles engines roared with life. Everyone in the room immediately began cheering and clapping, and I was overwhelmed with relief.


A minute later I saw the computers begin to receive notifications of system failure. The scientists and mission control personnel hustled to figure out what was wrong. But I, I just watched the video footage of the Space Shuttle Challenger getting father and father away from us. Everything else melted away, it was as if I knew what was happening. I thought to myself, Goodbye Mike, thank you for being the best friend I could ever ask for, wishing that he could hear me. Just as unexpectedly as it started, it had finished, chills ran down my spine as I watched the Challenger explode and fall to the earth in a fiery inferno.



Dunbar, Brian. “The First Person on the Moon.” NASA, NASA, forstudents/k-4/stories/first-person-on-moon.html. 12 April 2019.

Howell, Elizabeth. “Columbia: First Shuttle in Space.”, Space Created with Sketch. Space, 30 Nov. 2017, 12 April 2019.

PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 12 April 2019.

Petersen, Carolyn Collins. “Biography of Michael J. Smith, Challenger Astronaut.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 26 Feb. 2019, 12 April 2019.

Pruitt, Sarah. “5 Things You May Not Know About the Challenger Shuttle Disaster.”, A&E Television Networks, 28 Jan. 2016, you-might-not-know-about-the-challenger-shuttle-disaster. 12 April 2019.

Wall, Mike. “Challenger Disaster 30 Years Ago Shocked the World, Changed NASA.”, Space Created with Sketch. Space, 28 Jan. 2016, space-shuttle-challenger-disaster-30-years.html. 12 April 2019.