JSC Engineer Remembers Challenger Tragedy (Part 3)

by Jerry Woodfill


Despite the popular view that a swift death was a merciful outcome, I did not share the opinion. Believing the literal words of Christ caused me much anguish. He had plainly told a first century seeker, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me." (John 14:6) The exclusiveness of the Gospel was not fashioned by God as a snobís religion. Rather it offered the promise of eternal life to anyone who simply believed according to Jesusí instruction: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in meÖ shall never die." (John 11:25,26) The apostle Paul amplified the democratic character of salvation writing: "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord (Jesus) shall be saved."(Rom. 10:13) Additionally, John, the apostle, explained: "He that hath the Son hath life...he that hath not the Son hath not life."(I John 5:12)

The Challenger tragedy seemed magnified by the instant loss of the seven-member crew without so much as a millisecondís notice to call out to Christ. It is so unlike God to make no time for those who had failed to call earlier, a final opportunity. The God I knew was the God of a second chance. Truly, the greatest element of the tragedy was spiritual, the sudden closing of the door of salvation. Christís promise was articulated by John in Revelation 3:20. "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man open the door, I will come in to him." It seemed that door had been slammed shut by instantaneous death.

A Revelation

A few days after the prayer for the recorderís recovery, the search team discovered not only the recorder but also the crew capsule resting intact on the ocean floor. Days later, photo analysis of footage taken of the explosion revealed the separation of the crew module in cucoon-like fashion from the inferno of rocket fuel.

The module continued its trajectory, hundreds of feet above the burning propellant, then gently descended to the ocean.

Still later investigation confirmed that at least three of the astronautsí backpack breathing units had been activated during descent. Finally came the analysis of the sole tape recording of the crewís conversations. A colleague in an adjacent office devoted months of effort making the corroded tape playable. The headlines of the HOUSTON POST reported his triumph in mid July of 1986:


Challenger Crew Knew of Trouble

The Significance

If one fails to accept Christ in a personal way as a young person, it is unlikely that a decision will be made later. Though the Challenger crew was a group of courageous wonderful people, like presidents, kings, engineers, lawyers, farmers, and businessmen, all face the same eternal truths told in scripture. Life after death counts solely on turning to Jesus Christ, Godís son, during life on Earth. Despite the oft heard remarks and assurances that all are with God after death, we know the Bible does not agree.

The scripture tells us, "How then shall they call on him (Christ)...whom they have not heard?" (Rom. 10:14) I wondered, "Had they heard? Iím sure each knew the story of the baby Jesus. How could anyone in America be ignorant of the simple story told countless times during the celebration of Christmas.

Perhaps, it was a READERíS DIGEST article or a human-interest feature in PARADE about the Holy Land which told of the Christ child growing into manhood as a carpenter. It might have been a friend at the office, a neighbor, or relative who related the manís mission...to forgive sin, to comfort the sorrowing, to reveal His Father as God.

How could anyone in America fail to have known the story of the cross? Again, the Easter Story is certainly public knowledgeÖthat the Christ Child became a special man. The manís love was so far reaching that He died in agony. Nailed to a wooden cross two thousand years ago, He gave his life and shed His blood as a sacrifice for our sin.

Perhaps, it was the movie JESUS OF NAZARETH, a late night rerun of BEN HUR, BARABUS, or THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, but no man or woman could not know the conclusion of the wonderful story. The man Jesus overcame death. The grave could not hold him. He sits apart forevermore from Mohammed, Buddha, Confucious. HE AROSE FROM THE DEAD!" Finally, He ascended into heaven, returning to His Fatherís house. History books confirm the story : He lived. He was crucified. He rose again.

Certainly, each member of the Challenger crew knew the account. And many would say, "So what! Knowing a Bible story serves no more purpose than the details of JACKíN JILL or ROBIN HOOD." In normal circumstances that might be true, but the Bible says, Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom. 10:13)

I thought of the day Jesus died. Beside Him hung another man also on a cross, not a good or moral man, or a successful man not an astronaut, an engineer, or a religious man, but a common thief. He lived in Israel, in Jerusalem. Certainly, no person living in that city would have been ignorant of this man Jesus or the stories told of Him: how he healed the blind and the deaf, claiming to be Godís only Son sent to forgive sin.

That day on Calvary, God gave the lowly thief a second chance. With perhaps his last breath, knowing death certain, the felon called, "Lord, remember me..." Immediately came the reply, "To day shalt thou be with me in paradise." (Lk. 23:42,43) So great is Godís love that a last-breath-call for Jesusís help saves for all eternity.

Despite the horrible explosion, Godís love for seven brave men and women performed the miraculous, providing a final opportunity to call on Him. Perhaps, an instantaneous death would have been more merciful for those who had called earlier in life. Nevertheless, the character of God is described in scripture as rejoicing more over a lost sheep found than over the ninety-nine already in the fold. Each had time to consider Christ and say, "Lord, remember me..." So it could be said,

We Will Never Forget Them

Or the Last Time We Saw Them, This Morning

As They Prepared For Their Journey

And Waved Goodbye

And Slipped the Surly Bonds of Earth


Article Instant Death

"We will never forget...the last time we saw them."

Copyright JRWIV INTERESTS, 2000