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The Challenger Space Shuttle crew, who were killed during launch on Jan. 28, 1986. From front left: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. Scobee and Ronald E. McNair. Rear left: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (NASA via AP) The Challenger Space Shuttle crew, who were killed during launch on Jan. 28, 1986. From front left: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. Scobee and Ronald E. McNair. Rear left: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (NASA via AP)

The Challenger Space Shuttle crew, who were killed during launch on Jan. 28, 1986. From front left: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. Scobee and Ronald E. McNair. Rear left: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, and Judith Resnik. (NASA via AP)

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke May 31, 2024

No, the Challenger crew members aren’t alive

If Your Time is short

  • All seven crew members aboard the Challenger space shuttle died when the spacecraft exploded in January 1986.

Seven crew members died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 after the spacecraft exploded 73 seconds into the flight due to a leak that ignited a fuel tank. 

But a recurring conspiracy theory maintains they’re alive.

"Astronauts from the Challenger are ALIVE!" reads the text above a video of a recent meeting of the Brevard County Commission in Florida that we saw shared several times on Instagram

The video shows a man speaking during the meeting’s public comment period. "I think we all remember the Challenger explosion that took place in 1986 that tragically took the lives of all seven astronauts on board," he says. "A couple decades later, this thing called the internet came out and someone allegedly found almost all of those astronauts alive and well, many using the same exact names."

He then points to a board showing the photo of astronaut Judith Resnick "and also a Judith Resnick Yale Law professor."

"Michael J. Smith, the pilot of the Challenger and astronaut, and also a professor at the University of Wisconsin," the man says. "Commander Dick Scobee, who is now president of Cows in Trees."

He then says it’s statistically impossible to have three people with the same names, ages and faces as their supposed doppelgangers.

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

Featured Fact-check

The video comes from a May 21 meeting of the Brevard County Commission. In a full video of the meeting, the speaker makes his comments 2 hours and 53 minutes into the recording.

But his claims are wrong. We’ve dug into a similar claim before. In 2022, we debunked an Instagram post claiming that the Challenger never exploded. 

Many Americans watched the event on live television and the crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, died in what The New York Times called "the worst accident in the history of the American space program."

NASA Chief Historian Brian C. Odom told PolitiFact that "the Challenger accident did indeed occur on January 28, 1986, causing the deaths of the crew."  

The other deceased: U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Francis Richard Scobee, the Challenger’s commander, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka and Gregory B. Jarvis. 

There is a Judith Resnick at Yale Law School. In 1986, when the Challenger exploded, she was teaching at the University of Southern California, according to her résumé, posted on Yale’s website. Although Resnick the astronaut attended Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Maryland in the 1970s, Resnick the lawyer attended Bryn Mawr College and New York University School of Law. 

There’s also a Michael J. Smith at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he’s a professor emeritus in the college of engineering. While he was earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the university in the 1960s, Smith the astronaut was enrolled at the U.S.  Naval Academy. 

Scobee, who went by Dick, was cremated and his remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, along with those of other crew members. Another Richard Scobee, CEO of Cows in Trees Ltd., was working as a CEO of a marketing company in Chicago at the same time that Dick Scobee was training with NASA to be an astronaut.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

 

Our Sources

Instagram post, May 29, 2024

PolitiFact, Conspiracy theory about the NASA’s Challenger space shuttle is still wrong, Nov. 30, 2022

Yale School of Law, Judith Resnik, visited May 30, 2024

Judith Resnik CV, visited May 30, 2024

University of Wisconsin-Madison, Michael J. Smith, visited May 30, 2024

NASA, The Crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L Mission, visited May 30, 2024

Richard Scobee LinkedIn, visited May 30, 2024

NASA, Biographical data: Judith A. Resnik, visited May 30, 2024

NASA, Biographical data: Michael J. Smith, visited May 30, 2024

NASA, Biographical data: Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, visited May 30, 2024

YouTube, 05/21/2024 - Brevard County Commission Meeting, May 21, 2024

 

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No, the Challenger crew members aren’t alive

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