How did the Challenger jokes spread?

I’ve always wondered about this phenomenon. Right after the Challenger disaster, all these jokes appeared. We were out of school for some reason the day of the explosion. The next day, back in school, people were telling jokes about it. You’ve heard them, I’m sure.

Q: What were Christa McAuliffe’s last words?
A: “What’s this button do?”

Q: What does NASA stand for?
A: Need Another Seven Astronauts

Q: Did you know that NASA has a new space drink?
A: Ocean Spray - It was their second choice because they couldn’t
get 7-UP.

Q: What subject did Christa MacAuliffe teach?
A: Social studies . . . but now she’s history.

And many more. I was living in New Jersey at the time, but everyone seems to remember hearing those jokes shortly after the disaster. Now other people who’ve heard the jokes may not have heard them the day after, but may think the did. But I did hear them the day after and I cannot believe they started in Cape May, NJ.

So, assuming everyone else is correct in hearing them the day after, how did they spread so quickly? This was before the internet was a major presence. The jokes were too tasteless to appear on any TV or radio shows.

They were all being told in Australia soon afterwards too. Perhaps some of the jokes occurred spontaneously at different places around the world independently of each other? It’s certainly conceivable that the “NASA=Need another seven astronauts” joke could have occurred to more than one person in the English speaking world. As for their transmission: I certainly remember seeing some of them in newspapers.

A radio DJ in my town told a long string of Challenger jokes. The public outcry was considerable, and the DJ lost his job. I guess this dork thought that he was being “edgy.”

“What’s this?”

(Person strikes match, tosses it to the floor)

" the first teacher in space."

runs away

It has long been the goal of humor researchers to witness the “birth” of a joke–the first telling of a joke that eventually becomes widely known. Unfortunately, it has never been observed, though it must of course happen on a fairly regular basis. Anyway: if anyone ever did witness an original telling of a joke that later became famous, there are people who want to know about it.


I think you’re probably misremembering how quickly the jokes spread. But they certainly did spread quickly because for a long time this is all anyone talked about. (BTW, how did they know Judy Resnick had dandruff? They found her head & shoulders on the beach.)


The internet was not a huge thing with the general public in 1986, but it was definitely around. And joke lists like this were the kind of thing being sent back then. So while 99% of the people may not have heard these jokes directly from the internet, they were probably getting them second hand from the 1% cutting edge geeks.

I was too, and it drove me nuts trying to remember why we had the day off. Still don’t remember.

Who probably had the day off because Christa McAuliffe was " the first teacher in space". A lot of schools brought TVs in.

[del]Who[/del] You :smack:

I just realized I’m probably being whooshed :wally

Did you know all their eyes were blue? Yep, it’s true…

One blew this way, one blew that way, one blew over there…

If you mean you think I was making some kind of joke, no, I wasn’t. I really had the day off from some reason. I was a JR in high school, FWIW.

We had the Monday the 27th off for Martin Luther King Day, but I was in school on Tuesday, January 28, 1986.

I worked with a former stock broker, and he said one thing he missed was how quickly jokes would spread throughout the country due to their constant chatter. He knew that Pope John Paul was polish before the smoke had cleared the chimney, due to the sheer number of polish pope jokes he suddenly heard, before any major news outlet had even announced the pick.

Perhaps the joke lists were spread by via fax machines?

Yes. That’s what I suspected. I thought maybe the country had a national day off school or something that I didn’t remember.

I was in the Navy in Key West. A couple of the ships from my squadron were involved in the search.

I remember getting fax lists of jokes and urban legends in the 80s, some of the same of which continue their sorry lives each time someone new finds the internet.

What did Christa McAuliffe tell her husband before she boarded the shuttle?

“Be sure you feed the kids, I’ll feed the fish.”

Funny you shouyld bring up stockbrokers.

My memory is a bit hazy, but back in the 80’s, I remember seeing an article in “New York” magazine on this very subject. The author wondered about how jokes were spread so quickly in the aftermath of a disaster.

Anyway, just a few days after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the author heard a new joke making the rounds: “What has feathers and glows in the dark? Chicken Kiev!”

The author figured this was a perfect test case. He started doing serious trace work, asking “Who told you that joke,” then tracking down THAT person, asking HIM where he’d heard it, then tracking down THAT person…

Eventually it was a dead end, but… interestingly, Wall Street seemed to be the source. And that made sense, since people in the financial community are constantly on the phone with other financial people all over the country (indeed, all over the world).

So, while stockbrokers may not be the ones making up jokes, it’s quite possible that, in the pre-internet age, they were the ones SPREADING the jokes from coast to coast.

Or in the alternative, Now Accepting Seven Applications.

What did Christa leave for her students?
A blown-up picture of herself.

Why didn’t Christa bathe before the flight?
She figured she’d either shower back on Earth or wash up on shore.

My mother insists that I tell these every time I’m home. She claims to hate them, but she luahgs every time. Then she insists on hearing the Helen Keller jokes, which are every bit as appalling, and she laughs even harder.