Challenger commander's widow, son recall 'tough day'

When space shuttle Challenger exploded 30 years ago, June Scobee lost her husband and Rich Scobee lost his father. Today, they were among hundreds of people who returned to Kennedy Space Center to mark the somber anniversary.

Dick Scobee was the commander of the high-profile mission, which had been delayed several times leading up to the January 28, 1986 launch date.

It was a chilly morning, June remembers, but the crew's families were eager for the big day.

"That morning, we were all overjoyed, so excited because they were going to launch. [It was a] beautiful cobalt sky, but cold. We were gathered at the top of the Mission Control Center, all huddled together, wrapped in our coats to watch that launch. We cheered, it was so exciting," she recalled Thursday. "But then the unthinkable happened."

Unbeknownst to anyone on the ground, a rubber seal in Challenger's booster rocket had failed in the cold air, allowing hot gasses to burn through the booster and eventually ignite an explosion that ripped the spacecraft apart.

The images are seared in the memories of anyone watching that day -- the orange fireball and the white corkscrews of exhaust left behind in the crisp blue sky by the runaway boosters, still firing furiously.

Like the millions of schoolchildren watching live television coverage, the families at the Cape could only watch and wait.

"Just numb, we were frozen in shock," Scobee continued. "It was a while before we learned that no one survived."

"It was a tough day all around," offered Rich Scobee, who was a senior at the Air Force Academy back in 1986. "Even though it was 30 years ago, it seems like it just happened, still fresh in our memories."

VIDEO: Watch June & Rich's full interview

Rich Scobee credits his mother with helping everyone through the tough times that followed.

"You have a strong matriarch that takes charge of your family," he said. "That's what my mom did, not only for our family, but for all the families of the crew. She was really that voice that spoke for us all. It was nice; she was somebody that we could all look to for guidance."

In the three decades since the accident, family members of the crew have opted to remember them for how they lived rather than how they died, opening Challenger Centers around the country to carry on the mission of science and education.

Also during that time, Rich Scobee served his country in the Air Force, rising to the rank of major general. It gave him a chance to reflect on not only the tragedy, but how the nation responded to it.

"Anybody who's lost somebody that they love, they know what it's like," he added. "Whether it's a long illness or something that's unexpected, that feeling of loss is the same. Ours was just very public; we shared it with the nation, who was in mourning with us. We derive a lot of strength from that. There are great people in this country and we are lucky to be a part of it."