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Fact Check: Instagram posts – Conspiracy theory about the NASA’s Challenger space shuttle is still wrong

A conspiracy theory circulating on social media claims that a tragic historic event captured on live television — a U.S. space shuttle’s fiery disintegration — never happened. That’s wrong.

An Instagram post claims: “No NASA challenger rocket blew up with people on it. You all got scammed for billions is what happened. …and brainwashed while scammed.” 

The post contains the photos of two men, one of an astronaut who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, and another who is identified as the CEO of a company, and says they are the same man. The post implies that because the men look similar, and share a name, the space shuttle disaster must have been faked. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The Challenger exploded Jan. 28, 1986, 73 seconds after liftoff, as many Americans, including children in school classrooms, watched on live television. Though it was the early days of cable news, CNN captured the event live, as did a NASA satellite feed, which was shared with schools.

Seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, died in the explosion, which The New York Times called “the worst accident in the history of the American space program.”

NASA Chief Historian Brian C. Odom told PolitiFact: “The Challenger accident did indeed occur on January 28, 1986, causing the deaths of the crew.”  

The Instagram post contains images of Francis Richard Scobee, who went by Dick, and a different Richard Scobee, whom the post identified as the CEO of Cows in Trees Ltd. 

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Francis Richard Scobee was the Challenger’s spacecraft commander, according to a NASA biography. His cremated remains are buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, along with those of other crew members: McAuliffe, Michael J. Smith, Judith A. Resnik, Ronald E. McNair, Ellison S. Onizuka, and Gregory B. Jarvis. 

PolitiFact in 2019 debunked another claim that the Challenger never blew up and its crew is still alive.

In 2015, other fact-checkers found the same claim to be false; the other man in the post, Richard Scobee, was working as a CEO of a marketing company in Chicago at the same time that Dick Scobee was training with NASA to be an astronaut.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claims that the NASA space shuttle the Challenger never exploded, and did not have a crew on it. 

The Challenger space shuttle exploded Jan. 28. 1986 on live television, killing all seven crew members on board. Their remains are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Conspiracy theorists have revisited this incident for years, trying to convince Americans that what many saw with their own eyes cannot be believed.  

We rate this claim Pants on Fire! 

Source: PolitiFact.