Challenger Space Disaster Answered

Commander James Keough from The Challenger Learning Center to speak at Martz-Kohl Observatory.

On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff killing all seven astronauts onboard. The tragedy was indelibly imprinted on the American space program and in the hearts and minds of the world that day.

The question it left behind was simple, but it seemed unanswerable. What good can ever come of such a catastrophe?

One Great Answer

The public is invited to come to the Martz-Kohl Observatory at 7:30 on Wednesday evening August 17, 2022, and discover one of the most remarkable and encouraging answers crafted by The Challenger Learning Center—the remarkable families of those lost spacefarers.

According to Challenger Learning Center organizers, “In the aftermath of the Challenger accident, the crew’s families came together, firmly committed to the belief that they must carry on the spirit of their loved ones by continuing the Challenger crew’s educational mission. Their efforts resulted in the creation of Challenger Center for Space Science Education.

The Challenger Learning Center, located near Olean, is the local branch of the international Challenger organization dedicated to bringing all students dynamic educational experiences to help inspire future generations of STEM-conscious leaders.

Though the Challenger Event occurred long before today’s students were born, space science has become one of this era’s most inspiring and exciting learning tools.

Commander On Site!

Commander James Keough will be this month’s featured guest speaker at MKO. He will meet and speak to guests in person and later open the meeting to an always fascinating Q& A session after his talk, “The Challenger Learning Center Experience.”

Commander Keough earned his BS degree in Education at SUNY Geneseo, then earned certification in K-12 Vocal Music which he taught at Scio (NY) Central School for 24 years before teaching 4th grade for seven additional years. As a former St. Bonaventure University supervisor, Jim has proven his passion for the education of the region’s youth at all ages and stages of their school experience.

Also attracted to the Teacher in Space Project back in 1985, the Challenger mission soon became close to his heart, a natural extension of his life’s work. In his spare time, he enjoys flying radio-controlled model aircraft and geocaching, a hobby not even possible without the world’s most advanced space satellites.

The Vision

MKO is proud to offer this program to our public, in part because MKO’s and Challenger’s visions are so closely aligned toward serving our public. Challenger promises to “Build a scientifically literate public and shape our future leaders to help improve quality of life across the globe – not just through pragmatic teaching, but also by the power of vision, inspiration, and innovation.”

The Invitation

This lecture is live at the observatory and available online via Zoom. You are encouraged to come to the observatory to meet James in person and join in our always lively Q&A after his talk.

Later, if the weather cooperates, we offer tours and viewing opportunities through the big telescopes.

To learn more about all of our speakers and the Martz-Kohl Observatory, please go to A non-member donation of $5 for adults and $2 for students is appreciated but not required for presentations and events. Donations are welcome and appreciated and can be made at the observatory or on our website donation page.

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Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.