Emotional Letter to Columbia Shuttle Children

Feb. 4, 2003 -- When Challenger exploded 17 years ago, the wife and daughter of shuttle commander Dick Scobee became reluctant experts at grieving in the public eye.

Now, they're trying to use their experience to help the families of the astronauts killed in the Columbia disaster.

Kathie Scobee Fulgham was 23 years old when she lost her father. She found herself struggling with thousands of different feelings, unanswered questions and horrifying images for years after his death.

Her mother, June Scobee Rodgers, has been helping to counsel the Columbia families since the shuttle disintegrated in the sky Saturday. She said watching the tragedy unfold brought back many of the same feelings she experienced when her husband was killed.

"I talked recently to Rick Husband's wife, the commander's wife, Evelyn," Scobee Rodgers said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "Her biggest concern is about her children. I told her that my daughter had written a letter to the Columbia children."

Scobee Rodgers (she remarried in 1989) read part of her daughter's letter on Good Morning America, just hours before the memorial service held today at Johnson Space Center for the seven Columbia astronauts.

"We, the Challenger children and all the children of public disasters, are hearing your hearts break. Our loved ones were astronauts on board the space shuttle Challenger, which blew up a few minutes after takeoff. It all happened on live TV. It should have been a moment of private grief, but instead it was a very public torment. My father died 100 times a day on televisions all across the country and since it happened so publicly everyone felt like it happened to them, and it did. Everyone saw it, everyone hurt and everyone grieved. Everyone wanted to help, but that didn't make it easier for me. They wanted to say goodbye to American heroes, I just wanted to say goodbye to my daddy."

Fulgham, now the mother of four, has said that she hopes her perspective can help comfort the Columbia children, who range in age from 3 to 22.

Most ‘Trying’ Day of Her Life

Although it was 17 years ago, Scobee Rodgers says still remembers the morning of the Challenger memorial, the most "trying" day of her life. "After the prayers and President Reagan's speech there was a flyover of T38s that fellow NASA astronauts flew and it was a beautiful symbolic gesture," said Scobee Rodgers. "That's when I cried and I didn't even realize there were cameras pointed at us, but for weeks and months after that I saw that moment when I wept.

Scobee Rodgers and her daughter attended today's Columbia memorial along with President Bush, families and friends of the lost crew members, and thousands of grieving space agency workers. After the service, they met with the Columbia families in private.

Although grieving in public can make the situation even harder, Scobee Rodgers says it also helps to have the sympathy and good wishes of so many people.

"It's difficult, but it's very comforting to know that a nation of people care," she said.