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June 25, 2018
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One famous flag

By: Irene Hilsendager
June 8, 2018

The Challenger flag is an American flag that was in the flight kit of the final, disastrous Challenger mission. It was sponsored by Boy Scout Troop 514 of Monument, Colorado. Their Scoutmaster was William Tolbert, a major in the United States Air Force assigned to the Space Command.

William Tolbert had ordered the flag from the Valley Forge Flag Company and had arranged for the flag to be flown briefly over the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on January 25, 1985. It was submitted to the NASA Johnson Space Center by the Second Space Wing, for flight on a space shuttle. On January 28, 1986, it was carried in the “official flight kit” of the Challenger space shuttle on its last flight. It was sealed in plastic and was next to some souvenir medallions being flown by one of the Astronauts. As the Challenger wreckage was brought up from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, rescuers found this flag, still in its sealed plastic bag, intact and completely unscathed. The souvenir medallions had melted into a single lump.

On December 18, 1986, the Challenger flag was returned to Boy Scout Troop 514 in a special ceremony attended by 100 dignitaries, guests and members of the media, at the Consolidated Space Operations Center, Falcon Air Force Station, Colorado. Astronaut Guy Bluford, who had flown on board the Challenger on two previous missions and who is also an Eagle Scout, returned the flag to the troop.

Early in 1987, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger designated the Challenger flag as the official flag of the ceremonies commemorating the United States Constitution bicentennial and he invited the troop to participate in the bicentennial gala in Philadelphia. On September 17, 1987, the flag was part of a parade through the streets of Philadelphia and that evening it was presented on the stage of the Philadelphia Civic Center Hall as part of the opening ceremonies. The celebration was attended by an audience of 13,000 people.

On September 18, 1987, Boy Scout Troop 514 went to Washington, D.C. where the Challenger flag was flown once again over the United States Capitol—the first flag to have ever been returned to be re-flown.

In 2002, the Challenger flag was loaned to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be displayed in Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympic games. 

Troop 514 is still in possession of the Challenger flag. They continue to display it for certain special public events and Eagle Courts of Honor.