The Challenger explosion was one of the late 20th century's worst space disasters. Beyond the seven astronauts whose lives ended tragically, an additional beloved American figure could have been aboard the ship as well. This video tells the harrowing tale of one way in which the disaster was nearly even more surreal.
Only 73 seconds into its flight on January 28, 1986, the shuttle suddenly broke apart, sending debris crashing into the Atlantic Ocean.
Months before, Caroll Edwin Spinney was the real-life body behind the Big Bird puppet on Sesame Street, was invited by NASA to join the Challenger team as a passenger. The goal was to get kids interested in space, but the puppet was too large to transport. In his place, teacher Christa McAuliffe was chosen for the mission to foster the educational angle of the mission.
Though Big Bird's big size ended up saving his life, he and the rest of Sesame Street's cast and crew have continued to work with NASA, encouraging kids' interest and education in science, technology, math, and space. And Spinney himself remembers watching the Challenger explode and crying. Watch this video for a behind-the-scenes peek at a fascinating and emotional moment in space exploration.