30 years since Challenger: New voice at astronauts' memorial

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The Challenger Shuttle Disaster, 30 Years on

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- As families of the lost Challenger astronauts gather with NASA to mark the space shuttle accident's 30th anniversary, there's a new voice to address the crowd.

June Scobee Rodgers -- widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee and longtime spokeswoman for the group -- is passing the torch to daughter Kathie Scobee Fulgham.

Fulgham -- not Rodgers -- will be on the stage for Thursday morning's ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. And making a rare appearance in the audience will be schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe's son, Scott, with his own family.

See more on the deadly explosion:

Challenger explosion's 30th anniversary
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30 years since Challenger: New voice at astronauts' memorial
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 1986 file photo, the space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Bruce Weaver, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 1986 picture, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. shortly before it exploded with a crew of seven aboard. (AP Photo/Thom Baur)
FILE - This photo provided by NASA shows the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger mission 51L. All seven members of the crew were killed when the shuttle exploded during launch on Jan. 28, 1986. Front row from left are Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, and Ronald E. McNair. Front row from left are Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (NASA via AP)
Space Shuttle Challenger Commander Francis Scobee and Christa McAuliffe smiles after a test flight at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Jan. 24, 1986. McAuliffe, a New Hampshire school teacher, is a member of the crew for Sunday's scheduled launch. (AP Photo/Paul Kizzle)
FILE - In this Jan. 27, 1986 file picture, the crew members of space shuttle Challenger flight 51-L, leave their quarters for the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. From foreground are commander Francis Scobee, Mission Spl. Judith Resnik, Mission Spl. Ronald McNair, Payload Spl. Gregory Jarvis, Mission Spl. Ellison Onizuka, teacher Christa McAuliffe and pilot Michael Smith. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
FILE - In this Jan. 28, 1986 file picture, spectators at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. react after they witnessed the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - This Jan. 28, 1986 file picture shows U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office of the White House after a televised address to the nation about the space shuttle Challenger explosion. (AP Photo/Dennis Cook)
FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 1, 1986 file photo, customer David Kimball of Manchester, N.H. reacts as store employees Lynne Beck of Salisbury, N.H. and Lisa Olson, far right, of Manchester, N.H., embrace each other as they watch the Houston memorial service for the astronauts who died in the space shuttle Challenger explosion on a television in a store in Concord, N.H. Pictured on the television screen are family members of one of the astronauts. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
The Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, at 11:38 a.m., EST, January 28, 1986. The entire crew of seven was lost in the explosion 73 seconds into the launch. (AP Photo/NASA)
FILE - In this series of Jan. 28, 1986 photos, the space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A family from Michigan watches the explosion from Shepard Park in Cocoa Beach. (Malcolm Denemark/Florida Today via AP) 
TV monitor shots of Space Shuttle Challenger Flight 51-L, exploding, Jan. 28, 1986. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Traveling at nearly 2,000 miles-per-hour, the United States space shuttle "Challenger" explodes shortly after being launched from Cape Canaveral on Jan. 28, 1986, taking its crew on seven to instant death. The crew had included Mrs. Sharon Christa McAuliffe, 37, a mother of two children, who had been selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first schoolteacher to fly in the space shuttle as a member of NASA's citizen-in-space-program. It was the first in-air disaster of 56 United States manned space mission. There was no immediate explanation of what went wrong with the 860 million Euro space ship. Pictures are from a television replay of the disaster as recorded in London. (AP Photo)
In this 1985 photo, high school teacher Christa McAuliffe gives a thumbs-up during a parade down Main Street in Concord, N.H. McAuliffe was one of seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
FILE - In this 1986 file photo, workers transport debris from the space shuttle Challenger, recovered after the Jan. 28, 1986 explosion, to a storage site on the Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/James Neihouse)
FILE - This undated file photo provided by NASA shows astronaut and commander in the U.S. Navy, Michael J. Smith. Smith was the pilot of space shuttle Challenger STS-51-L, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed in the explosion. (AP Photo/NASA, File)
FILE - This undated photo provided by NASA shows American astronaut and Air Force pilot Francis R. Scobee. Scobee was the spacecraft commander on the space shuttle Challenger STS-51-L, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 28, 1986. All seven crew members were killed. (AP Photo/NASA, File)
American Astronaut Gregory B. Jarvis poses in this undated photo. Jarvis was a payload specialist whose duties on the space shuttle Challenger STS-51-L were to gather new information on the design of liquid-fueled rockets. He was one of seven crewmembers killed aboard the Challenger mission, which exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 28, 1986. Jarvis was born on Aug. 24, 1944. (AP Photo)
FILE - In this Jan. 31, 1986 file photo, Coast Guardsmen prepare to hoist the fulcrum of one of the space shuttle Challenger's solid rocket boosters onto the deck of U.S. Coast Guard cutter Dallas during salvage operations off the Florida coast. The Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff on Jan. 28. (AP Photo/File)
FILE - This Jan. 28, 1986 photo provided by NASA shows icicles on hand rails of the space shuttle Challenger's service structure on the morning of its final launch from Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The cold weather affected O-ring seals on a solid rocket booster, causing the explosion during launch. (AP Photo/NASA)
FILE - In this 1986 file photo, members of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident walk past the solid rocket boosters and the external tank of a shuttle being fitted in the Vehicle Assembly building at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool, File)
FILE - In this Friday, Jan. 28, 2011 file photo, June Scobee Rodgers, widow of Dick Scobee, commander of space shuttle Challenger, looks upward during the playing of the National Anthem at a remembrance ceremony to mark the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion at the Kennedy Space Center visitor complex in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, Jan. 28, 2011. On the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident, June Scobee Rodgers _ widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee and longtime spokeswoman for the families of the lost astronauts _ is passing the torch to daughter Kathie. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
This Dec. 25, 1972 photo provided by June Scobee Rodgers shows her late husband, Dick Scobee and their children, and Rich and Kathie. On the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident, June Scobee Rodgers, longtime spokeswoman for the families of the lost astronauts is passing the torch to daughter Kathie Scobee Fulgham. Fulgham, not Rodgers, will be on the speaker platform for the ceremony on Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. (Courtesy June Scobee Rodgers via AP)
This May 2014 photo provided by June Scobee Rodgers shows her with her children, Rich Scobee and Kathie Scobee Fulgham, in Tennessee. On the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger accident, June Scobee Rodgers _ widow of Challenger commander Dick Scobee and longtime spokeswoman for the families of the lost astronauts _ is passing the torch to daughter Kathie. (David Humber/June Scobee Rodgers via AP)
Acting NASA Administrator Dr. William Graham, right, watches as the remains of one of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger is carried from a jet to awaiting hearses at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware, Tuesday, April 29, 1986. At Dover AFB, the remains are to be prepared for burial in accordance with the wishes on the individual families. (AP Photo/Gary Emeigh)
A military honor guard carries the remains of one of the crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Tuesday, April 29, 1986, as the body was being transferred to Dover, Del. Seven crew members were killed in the Jan. 28th explosion. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
Unidentified onlookers and servicemen salutes as hearses carrying the remains of the seven astronauts killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion are driven from the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Delaware on Tuesday, April 30, 1986. The remains were flown to Dover AFB for burial preparation. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
This is the portion of the right hand solid rocket booster at Kennedy Space Center, Florida on June 12, 1986, which is being blamed for the explosion on January 28, which destroyed the Space Shuttle Challenger and killed the 7 crew members. Visible in the lower left is the section which burned through and allowed hot gases to escape and burn into the External Fuel Tank. (AP Photo/James Neihouse)
John White, National Transportation Safety Board inspector, stands near the left side of the wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger, Wednesday, April 10, 1986, Kennedy Space Center, Fla. The press was allowed to view the Challenger wreckage for the first time. (AP Photo)
Former astronaut Neil Armstrong, a member of the presidential panel investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, listens to testimony before the commission in Washington, Feb. 11, 1986. David Acheson, a commission member, listens in the background. A model of the shuttle sits on the table. (AP Photo/Scott Stewart)

"It's going to be wonderful to watch the pages turn," Rodgers said earlier this week. The second generation "can now speak for our family and speak for the nation," she said, adding that she's looking forward to these grown astronauts' children "sharing their stories, their beliefs and their leadership."

For the seven astronauts' loved ones, Jan. 28, 1986, remains fresh in their minds.

Steven McAuliffe, a federal judge in Concord, New Hampshire, still declines interviews about his late wife Christa, who was poised to become the first schoolteacher in space. But he noted in a statement that although 30 years have passed, "Challenger will always be an event that occurred just recently. Our thoughts and memories of Christa will always be fresh and comforting."

McAuliffe said he's pleased "Christa's goals have been largely accomplished in that she has inspired generations of classroom teachers and students." She would be proud, he noted, of the Challenger Learning Centers.

McAuliffe is presiding over a trial this week in Concord, and so son Scott will represent the family, part of the next-generation shift. Scott and his sister are now in their 30s. The McAuliffes normally do not take part in these NASA memorials, so Scott's presence is especially noteworthy.

Along with the other Challenger families, Rodgers established the Challenger Center for Space Science Education just three months after the shuttle disintegrated in the Florida sky. Unusually cold weather that morning left Challenger's booster rockets with stiff O-ring seals; a leak in the right booster doomed the ship.

Today, there are more than 40 Challenger Learning Centers focusing on science, technology, engineering and math, mostly in the U.S. More are being built.

"They're not just a field trip for kids. They're actually lessons learned," said Rodgers, an educator who lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. "That's why they've lasted."

WATCH: America remembers Challenger, 30 years on:

America Remembers Challenger, 30 Years on

McAuliffe's backup, Barbara Morgan, a schoolteacher from Idaho, rocketed into orbit in 2007 aboard Endeavour as a fully trained astronaut. Morgan was invited to speak Thursday at Rodgers' request.

Besides Dick Scobee and Christa McAuliffe, the Challenger dead include pilot Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka and Gregory Jarvis.

Seven more shuttle astronauts died Feb. 1, 2003, aboard Columbia; that commander's widow, Evelyn Husband Thompson, will attend Thursday's ceremony.

The event will honor the Columbia Seven as well, along with the three Apollo 1 astronauts killed during a launch pad test on Jan. 27, 1967. NASA also plans observances at Arlington National cemetery, Johnson Space Center in Houston and elsewhere.

At Kennedy, the Scobee contingent will number 12, including June's son Richard, a major general in the Air Force, and a 16-year-old granddaughter.

Dick Scobee was 46 years old when he died aboard Challenger barely a minute into the flight. Both his children are now in their 50s.

"For so many people, 30 years, it's definitely history. It's in the history books," Rodgers said. For the family, "it's like it's just happened, which in a way keeps Dick Scobee young in our hearts, and the joy and excitement he had for flying."

RELATED: See the most iconic photos in space travel history

Most iconic photos in space travel history
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30 years since Challenger: New voice at astronauts' memorial
Photograph of the far side of the moon taken by the luna 3 space probe on october 28, 1959. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Earth Rise Viewed From The Moon, The First Photograph Of Earth Taken From The Vicinity Of The Moon, Captured By Lunar Orbiter 1, Aug, 23, 1966. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG Via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 03: The American Scientists William Pickering, James Van Allen And Werner Von Braum (From Left To Right) Raising A Replica Of The Explorer Satellite During A Press Conference In Washington, In Which They Announced Its Being Put Into Orbit, On February 3, 1958. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Soviet cosmonaut yuri gagarin, first man in space, in the capsule of vostok 1, april 12, 1961. (Photo by: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)
Astronaut Edward White in Extravehicular Activity, during the Gemini 4 mission, He spent 21 minutes, outside the capsule (June 3, 1965). (Photo by Photo12/UIG/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, USA - UNDATED: Large color photograph, 20 by 16 inches, of a nearly nose-on view of the Gemini 7 spacecraft as seen and photographed by Tom Stafford onboard Gemini 6. Part of Gemini 6 is seen in the foreground. INSCRIBED AND SIGNED: 'Gemini 6 & 7, Tom Stafford, Plt, 15 Dec 1965' and additionally signed by WALLY SCHIRRA with 'CDR.' Estimate: $1,000 - 1,500. When Bonhams had their first space sale last year it became the highest-grossing American space history auction ever. On 13th April 2010 Bonhams will be selling more incredible space lots. Timed to coincide with the anniversary of Apollo 13, the sale comprises almost 300 lots including flight plan sheets, emblems, medallions, hardware, models, lunar surface equipment, charts and photographs. Many items come directly from astronauts' own collections. (Photo by Bonhams / Barcroft Media / Getty Images)
(GERMANY OUT) Apollo 1 disaster: a tragedy struck the Apollo 1 mission when a fire inside the space capsule caused the death of all three astronauts (3 weeks before its planned launch) - the exterior of the burned space capsule (Photo by Astro-Graphs/ullstein bild via Getty Images)
376713 15: (FILE PHOTO) The Apollo 11 Saturn V space vehicle lifts off July 16, 1969 from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex in Florida. The space craft was injected into lunar orbit on July 19 with Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr. on board. The 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing mission is celebrated July 20, 1999. (Photo by NASA/Newsmakers)
NBC NEWS -- Apollo 11 Moon Landing -- Pictured: (l-r) Kinescope images of astronaut Commander Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the moon during the Apollo 11 Space Mission's moon landing for the first time in history on July 21, 1969 (Photo by NBC NewsWire/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1754: US Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, walking on the Moon July 20 1969. Taken during the first Lunar landing of the Apollo 11 space mission by NASA. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Earth Day, first held April 22, 1970, is now celebrated every year by more than a billion people in 180 nations around the world. All work together for the common goal of preserving the Earth and leaving it a better place for the future. This photo of Earth is from 1972. (Photo by NASA/MCT/MCT via Getty Images)
Damaged Apollo 13 Service Module, The Severely Damaged Apollo 13 Service Module (Sm) As Photographed From The Lunar Module/Command Module, An Entire Panel On The Sm Was Blown Away By The Explosion Of An Oxygen Tank. (Photo By Encyclopaedia Britannica/UIG
UNITED STATES - MAY 13: Pioneer 11, launched by NASA on 6th April 1973, returned the first close-up pictures of the ringed planet Saturn. The results, although visually spectacular, were rather disappointing from a scientific point of view. The second largest planet in the Solar System, Saturn was first observed through a telescope by Galileo in 1610, but its rings were not identified until 1659, by Christiaan Huygens. It is a gas giant similar in atmospheric composition to Jupiter, and rotates very quickly, causing it to appear oblate (flattened at the poles). The rings are composed of ice and ice-coated dust and rock. Their origin and formation are not precisely understood, but it seems that tidal effects caused by some of Saturn�s moons play a role in maintaining their structure. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 24: This spectacular view of Skylab, clearly showing the sun shield, was taken by the crew of Skylab 4, the last manned mission to the space station, as they returned home. Skylab 4 Astronauts Gerald Carr, Edward Gibson and William Pogue lived aboard Skylab from 16th November 1973 to 8th February 1974 setting what was then a world spaceflight endurance record of 84 days. Skylab was intended to have two solar panels to supply electrical power to the station, but when the station arrived in orbit in 1973, one was found to be missing, while the other had not deployed. The first crew to visit the station made a spacewalk and were able to deploy the panel, restoring power to Skylab. The absence of the missing panel can clearly be seen in this picture. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
21st July 1976: The first colour photograph taken on the surface of the planet Mars, by the Viking 1 probe. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
This dramatic view of Jupiter's Great Red Spot and its surroundings was obtained by Voyager 1 on Feb. 25, 1979. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 13: The age of the Space Shuttle begins with the launch of Columbia on the STS-1 mission. Commander John Young and Pilot Robert Crippen were at the controls. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 29: Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II is seen further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut has ever been. This space first was made possible by the Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU, a nitrogen jet propelled backpack. After a series of test maneuvers inside and above Challenger�s payload bay, McCandless went �free-flying� to a distance of 320 feet away from the Orbiter. This stunning orbital panorama view shows McCandless out there amongst the black and blue of Earth and space. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
IN SPACE: In this NASA handout, a view of nearly 10,000 galaxies are seen in a Hubble Telescope composite photograph released March 9, 2004. The Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF) photograph is a composite of a million one-second exposures and reveals galaxies from the time shortly after the big bang. (Photo by NASA/Getty Images)
Four images from New Horizons’ Long Range Reconnaissance Imager (LORRI) were combined with color data from the Ralph instrument to create this sharper global view of Pluto. (The lower right edge of Pluto in this view currently lacks high-resolution color coverage.) The images, taken when the spacecraft was 280,000 miles (450,000 kilometers) away from Pluto, show features as small as 1.4 miles (2.2 kilometers). That’s twice the resolution of the single-image view captured on July 13 and revealed at the approximate time of New Horizons’ July 14 closest approach. (Photo via NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)
These dark, narrow, 100 meter-long streaks called recurring slope lineae flowing downhill on Mars are inferred to have been formed by contemporary flowing water. Recently, planetary scientists detected hydrated salts on these slopes at Hale crater, corroborating their original hypothesis that the streaks are indeed formed by liquid water. The blue color seen upslope of the dark streaks are thought not to be related to their formation, but instead are from the presence of the mineral pyroxene. The image is produced by draping an orthorectified (Infrared-Red-Blue/Green(IRB)) false color image (ESP_030570_1440) on a Digital Terrain Model (DTM) of the same site produced by High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (University of Arizona). Vertical exaggeration is 1.5. (Photo by NASA/JPL/University of Arizona)

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