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Surviving Family Members Remain Close; Lean on One Another

January 18, 1987

SPACE CENTER, Houston (AP) _ Dick Scobee, commander of the shuttle Challenger, didn’t live to see his son Richard graduate from the Air Force Academy last June. But when commencement day came in Colorado Springs, Scobee’s widow, June, wasn’t alone.

Most of the Challenger families sat by her side. And a large group of astronauts flew up from Houston.

They are taking care of each other, quietly, privately.

The public, too, has not forgotten. The widowed spouses, children and parents of the seven who died in the explosion of space shuttle Challenger continue to receive baskets of letters. The volume dwindled for a while, and then, around Christmas time, grew again.

About $1.2 million has been donated to a fund established for the education, health and support of the 11 children of the Challenger crew. Much of the money has come from children who identified with the death of Christa McAuliffe, the Concord, N.H., teacher who died on Challenger.

The family members keep a low public profile, declining to conduct interviews. June Scobee has become an unofficial spokeswoman for the families. She agrees to infrequent interviews confined to carefully controlled subjects.

Jane Smith, the widow of pilot Michael Smith, spent time at her family home in South Carolina, but has returned to Houston. Marsha Jarvis, widow of Gregory Jarvis, continues to work in California.

Steven McAuliffe, husband of New Hampshire school teacher Christa McAuliffe, is an attorney in Concord.

The widows and children of Ronald McNair and Ellison Onizuka both live a short distance from the Johnson Space Center. June Scobee, whose two children are grown, lives nearby.

The seventh crew member, Judy Resnik, was unmarried.

Mrs. Scobee said the Challenger families visit often and talk by telephone almost daily.

″We’re a very close group,″ she said in a December interview. ″We’re a family in ourselves. They are my best friends.

″Lorna Onizuka has a wonderful sense of humor,″ Mrs. Scobee added. ″When I need someone to give me a boost in life, it’s Lorna I go to. When I need advice, it’s Steven McAuliffe I call.″

Mrs. Scobee said the families naturally gravitated toward each other, even before the accident.

″The astronauts were working together,″ she said. ″We made plans for receptions in Florida at the launch. We were together frequently for a whole year, even had meals together in the crew quarters (at the Kennedy Space Center.)

″After the accident, we were each other’s best support,″ Mrs. Scobee said. ″People ask you how you cope. There is nothing like the bond of family to help you through a situation like this.″

Some family members have sought legal action. Mrs. Smith filed a $75 million claim against the government for the death of her husband, accusing NASA of a disregard for human life. Her attorney is negotiating and hoping to settle the claim out of court.

Mrs. McNair hired a Houston attorney to file suit against Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer whose flawed rocket is blamed for the accident. Judy Resnik’s mother and Jarvis’ father have announced they also plan to sue.

″We’ve all coped in our own ways,″ said Mrs. Scobee. ″It’s an individual thing. I would never sue.″

The Onizuka family also announced it would not file suit.

But Mrs. Scobee admitted money has been tight.

″I could use some (money) right now,″ she said in December. ″My roof is leaking and my car needs to be repaired. Right now I’m living on the money set aside for my retirement.″

A few days after she made those statements, the government announced that it was settling with her and the surviving spouses of Onizuka, Jarvis and Mrs. McAuliffe. Each family was to receive more than a million dollars, according to sources.

All the families have spent time traveling to dedication ceremonies around the country. An air field was named for Smith in North Carolina; an Air Force Station in California and a memorial in Hawaii have been named for Onizuka; a number of schools have been named for Mrs. McAuliffe, and an auditorium at Edwards Air Force Base in California was named for Scobee. Just last week a library was named for Ms. Resnik.

The families in April announced that they would prefer memorial efforts be directed toward establishing a teaching center for children to be called the Challenger Center for Space Science Education, located in Washington, but with a satellite location at the Johnson Space Center near Houston.

The Challenger families are now making appearances around the country in an effort to raise $50 million to finance the concept. About $400,000 has been donated so far, said Mrs. Scobee, including large amounts from several of the space shuttle contractors.

The Smith and Onizuka children resumed their education at public schools near their homes. Mrs. McNair stays home with her children, ages 4 and 2.

Mrs. McAuliffe had two children, Scott, 10, and Caroline, 7, and they continue to live with their father in Concord.

Scobee’s daughter, Kathie, 25, works in the public relations department of Texas A&M.

Since Richard Scobee’s graduation from the Air Force Academy, he has undergone pilot training now at Shepherd Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, a base where his father once trained as a airplane mechanic.

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