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Challenger astronaut's Space Medal of Honor presented for display

March 8, 2022

— A rare medal of honor bestowed upon the fallen commander of NASA's space shuttle Challenger has been given a new space at a Tennessee museum devoted to the recipients of the United States' highest military award for valor.

The family of the late astronaut Francis Richard "Dick" Scobee presented his Congressional Space Medal of Honor for display at the Charles H. Coolidge National Medal of Honor Heritage Center in Chattanooga on Tuesday (March 8). The medal was awarded posthumously in 2004 for Scobee's "meritorious and dedicated service to the nation and his pioneering contributions to human space flight."

Scobee's widow decided to give the medal a new home after coming across the heritage center on one of her daily walks around downtown Chattanooga. The museum, which was founded in 1987, moved to its current location two years ago.

"When this building came with 'Medal of Honor' in the name of it, I thought, 'Oh, there's a medal of honor hanging on the wall in my home. No one gets to see it, except when we are passing down the hallway," said June Scobee Rodgers, addressing an audience of invited guests and local school children as part of the ceremony on Tuesday. "So I thought what a nice idea if they would accept it and give it a home here in our hometown of Chattanooga."

Scobee Space Medal of Honor. Click to view video in a new, pop-up window. (NMOHHC)

The heritage center not only welcomed Scobee's Congressional Space Medal of Honor, but now plans a $2.5 million interactive exhibit on his life, focusing on his career as a test pilot and his role as an astronaut in America's space program.

"We at the center are grateful to the Scobees and the Rodgers family for their contribution of the Congressional Space Medal," said Frank Hughes, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center. "In the coming months, we will develop a new immersive exhibit on the life and career of Dick Scobee and, if you go to our website, you will have opportunity to contribute to the exhibit as we begin the campaign to add to our award winning gallery."

The Congressional Space Medal of Honor is not the same as the Medal of Honor for which the heritage center was founded and until now, has focused its displays. Authorized by Congress in 1969, the Space Medal of Honor is awarded by the President of the United States in Congress's name, based on recommendations by the NASA Administrator. It is separate from the military Medal of Honor, which is bestowed for extreme bravery and gallantry in combat.

The Congressional Space Medal of Honor can be presented to any astronaut who in the performance of his or her duties has distinguished him or herself by "exceptionalIy meritorious efforts and contributions to the welfare of the nation and of mankind." It was first awarded by President Jimmy Carter in 1978 to six Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts, including Alan Shepard, the first American in space; John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth; Gus Grissom, commander of the first Gemini mission and ill-fated Apollo 1 crew; Frank Borman, commander of the first flight to the moon; Neil Armstrong, commander of the first moon landing mission; and Charles Conrad, commander of the first crew to live on board Skylab, America's first space station.

Later recipients included James Lovell, commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission; Thomas Stafford, the American commander of the joint U.S. and Russian Apollo-Soyuz Test Project; John Young and Bob Crippen, the crew of first space shuttle mission; Shannon Lucid, who at the time (1996) held the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman; William Shepherd, the first commander of the International Space Station; and the fallen Apollo 1, STS-51L (Challenger) and STS-107 (space shuttle Columbia) crews.

To date, only 28 out of the more than 350 American astronauts and more than 600 people who have flown into space have been awarded the Space Medal of Honor.

Prior to his death in 1986 on the shuttle Challenger, Scobee logged nearly seven days in space as the pilot of STS-41C, a mission that featured the first repair of a satellite in Earth orbit. A member of NASA's first class of space shuttle astronauts, Scobee came to NASA from U.S. Air Force, where he served as a combat aviator in the Vietnam War and as a test pilot for the Boeing 747 jetliner, the experimental X-24B lifting body and the C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.

"It is important to remember that we, as outside observers, only witness a small part of the astronaut experience," said David Currey, executive director of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, in a statement. "Together as a nation, we have celebrated their achievements and agonized over their tragedies — from the Mercury program forward. However, these men and women, along with their families, make tremendous sacrifices that certainly go above and beyond the call of duty."

The life of Lt Col. Dick Scobee is a testament to the courage, commitment and many of those sacrifices that are sometimes necessary to fully realize one's dreams," he said. "Here at the Heritage Center, we are honored that the Scobee family has given us an opportunity to tell that story."


June Scobee Rodgers, joined by her family members and officials from the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, presents the Congressional Space Medal of Honor awarded to her late husband, NASA astronaut Francis "Dick" Scobee, for display in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. (NMOHHC)

The Congressional Space Medal of Honor presented posthumously in 2004 by President George W. Bush to Francis R. Scobee for his "meritorious and dedicated service to the nation and his pioneering contributions to human space flight." (NMOHHC)

NASA portrait of astronaut Francis R. "Dick" Scobee, STS-41C pilot and commander of the ill-fated STS-51L mission. (NASA)

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