The John Denver Connection with the Challenger Space Shuttle

1 February 2023

Just a few days ago (Jan 28) we were performing our John Denver tribute concert with the Bartlesville Symphony Orchestra.  The orchestra played beautifully and from the first notes of “Rocky Mountain High” to the very last note of “Poems, Prayers and Promises” we were all transported by the lyrics and music of John Denver.

Near the end of the concert, I invited the audience to visit our website to read my monthly blog. I also mentioned that January 28 was the unhappy anniversary of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster (which happened in 1986) and that there was a John Denver connection. 

Here it is:

John Denver loved being a pilot and he had a strong desire to experience space flight.  He helped develop a program where citizens could go on NASA space missions, and was in line to be one of those citizens, having passed all the physical and mental tests required to qualify him for space flight.  John hoped to be the FIRST in line, but that was not to be – school teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected instead. McAuliffe was chosen to fly on the Challenger space shuttle, which broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all 7 crew members. 

John was inspired to write a song in memory of the Challenger crew called, “Flying for Me.”  I included the link below if you would like to listen to the song, including John’s introduction.

Flying for Me

Trivia Alert!  There is also a rumor that the instrumental ending of the song is the exact same time as the total flight time of the Challenger mission.  I couldn’t find any official statement about that so I timed it….. 73 seconds.


  1. Posted by: Miriam Van Raalte

    Hi Ann & Jim,
    So sorry I had to miss the San Pedro concert. Wendy said it was a great time! She texted me this morning to let me know about March 4 in Altadena. I’ll be there and am looking forward to seeing you both then.

    “Flying for Me” – I remember that fateful day – heartbreaking. I had no idea that John had planned on being on that flight!

    Sending hugs for a good month for you!

  2. Posted by: Anne

    Hi Miriam! Thanks for the hugs and good wishes! It was a heartbreaking day for sure – one of those days we will never forget. Looking forward to seeing you in Altadena!

  3. Posted by: Barbara Thomas

    Interesting info. I love the “Flying for Me” song, especially since I applied for the “teacher in space” program to be the teacher on the Challenger Space Shuttle. The application was many pages long and took hours and hours to complete (days actually). I was so disappointed when I didn’t make the first cut along with so many other teachers that applied. I was in my classroom listening on the radio that day during those 73 seconds and after. My students knew I had applied, and I had to leave the room for a few minutes after it happened.

  4. Posted by: Anne

    Oh wow, I didn’t know you applied!!! What an experience, you and your students were very brave….I would have left for more than a few minutes! We have to talk about this next time we see you! I am stunned!

  5. Posted by: Shirley Helmer

    Happy New Year! Glad to see you guys are up and kicking and doing great.

  6. Posted by: Anne

    Thank you Shirley! Happy New Year to you!

  7. Posted by: Norman Ashby

    Hi everyone it’s storming Norman from France here, I thought you might like to know that I’m teaching a young lady of 8 years to play the guitar and as she is a very keen horse rider The song Ponies came to mind and she loves it, I am very pleased to say as she had never heard of John Denver and am planning to change all that! With many more of Johns songs.

  8. Posted by: Anne

    Hey Storming Norman! Thank you for teaching John Denver’s music to your student. John inspired SO MANY people to play guitar…good job!

  9. Posted by: Kellie Foster Kirkdoffer

    Wow, very moving song. I never had heard it before today and did not know the story behind the song. Thank you for enlightening me.

    Looking forward to seeing you guys in April in SC.

    This will be our 5th year in a row coming to your concert.

    Franklin NC
    Cumming GA
    Dahlonega GA
    Townswnd TN

    And now Newberry SC.

    Hope you do The Wandering Soul. Hint hint

    Kellie & John

  10. Posted by: Anne

    Hi There! We are so glad you enjoy our concerts! Thank you! We are hoping to be invited back to each one of those places on your list – they all hold special memories! I made a note on our calendar for Newberry so hopefully “Wandering Soul” will make it into the set list. Thanks for letting us know!

  11. Posted by: Debbie Jardin

    How moving. I didn’t know that John was instrumental in developing that program. Very well done.

  12. Posted by: Anne

    Thank you Debbie, yes, very moving!

  13. Posted by: Carol Thatcher

    My Mother died one year before they xied so it is sad for me.

  14. Posted by: Anne

    We are sorry for your loss Carol.

  15. Posted by: Amy Breunig

    Thank you for. this. I didn’t know that John wanted to fly on the Challenger. I am grateful that he was able to still be with us for a little longer, though I wished he could have manifested his dream as well. I have a story about the Challenger too. The day before the crash, I was driving to work. I lost control of my car due to ice and crashed into a snow plow grader. I broke my pelvis in 4 places. The next morning, I turned on the TV and the first thing I saw was the space shuttle blowing up. I refused to watch anymore TV during my 2 1/2 weeks stay at the hospital, as I could not stand to see any more people being hurt. It was a big moment in my life, no matter how small my life was at that time.

  16. Posted by: Anne

    Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry to hear about your crash! It’s interesting to read everyone’s comments and connections to this event and I agree with you and grateful that we had John a little bit longer. He said he was filming “The Christmas Gift” at the time, and I know so many people that look forward to seeing that movie every Christmas so we have that too.

  17. Posted by: Marge

    Yes, I knew of John’s connection and recall hearing the song he wrote, at a concert, I believe. I love all of John Denver’s music. I love your tribute shows and HOPE you will come close to Oshkosh, WI again!

  18. Posted by: Anne

    Yes, many remember John’s connection. Sometimes I wonder if I am ‘preaching to the choir’ but not everyone followed John as closely as we did, lol. Then there are others that followed John much more closely than we did. Thank you for attending our tribute shows, we feel it’s important to give back at least a bit of what John gave us in his/our lifetime. Yes we hope to get invited back to Oshkosh soon, the promoter that brought us out there is taking a break so we hope he will be back soon or we find another wanting to book us in WI….fingers crossed!

  19. Posted by: Maggie Poling

    Can’t wait to see you in Sarasota. Bringing 2 of my friends that have never heard you. I wish you would make many more.trips to the west coast of Florida in the winter so I could introduce more friends to your performance.

  20. Posted by: Anne

    Yes! We are looking forward to our trip to Florida! We are lucky that Sun Productions has chosen us to do their series of concerts (this is the 3rd time they have invited us) and we also wish we could spend more time there. Bands go where they are invited to perform, so be sure to let the venues know the bands you enjoy. Only the biggest stars can pick and choose when and where they go to perform. If we had our choice, we would do MANY more shows in the great state of Florida!

  21. Posted by: Wes

    Dear Anne & Jim,
    Don’t delete us. We are long time fans having seen your show a good half dozen times. My wife is from Thailand-you might remember me telling you at one show that we took your CDs with us for our yearly month stay there. Wasn’t aware that John was in line for a space flight, but it makes sense. One thing that struck me in the video was how handsome and healthy he looked. Thank you.
    Looks like your schedule is filling up. Safe travels.
    Chamaiporn & Wes

  22. Posted by: Anne

    Don’t worry! You won’t be deleted if you open your newsletter – I just look for accounts that haven’t been opened for 6 months in a row….I have to make the assumption that email is no longer being used or the user is not interested. You don’t even have to read it, haha! Just open, which you just did, and we will know you still want to be on the list. Thanks for bringing us with you on your travels to Thailand, I have never been but I’ll bet it’s beautiful there. Safe travels!

  23. Posted by: Suzanne Ward (Mrs. Ed Ward)

    Thank you for the beautiful video of Flying for Me.
    I’m not sure Ed ever mentioned that he was involved in space launches etc.
    He would have loved the video too.
    Many thanks to you both.

  24. Posted by: Anne

    Hi Suzanne – No, Ed never mentioned that to us! I wish we had talked about it. Hugs!

  25. Posted by: Molly Worthington

    Anne, I see that you will be going to Logan, Utah. I sure hope you will be heading back to beautiful Midway, UT for the annual Cowboy Poetry event in October. My brother (Tony) was your sound guy there and I was there helping him. He took a picture of all of us, but I can’t get him to send it to me so I can send it to you to remind you of who I am. hahaha!
    Anyways, I remember listening to an interview that John Denver did around the time of the Challenger disaster and it brought tears to my eyes reliving that day. What a beautiful song that he wrote and sang about it. Keep on doing what your are doing and hopefully I will see you again in October.

  26. Posted by: Anne

    Hi Molly! We would know by now if Midway planned to bring us back this year – sadly they have not. Normally, a place would wait a year or two before return engagements so we are looking forward to when they decide to bring us back! Hope to see you then! We might get hired near ST GEORGE someday!!!

  27. Posted by: Dianna P. Wood

    Hi Anne,
    I have a story to tell, but I’ll have to put it on Facebook’s homepage with a video. I finally found it. It’s quite extensive but interesting. Look forward to seeing you and Jim in Altadena, CA. Love, Dianna-!

  28. Posted by: Anne

    Great Dianna, I’ll keep a lookout for it on Facebook. Hugs to you and Phil!

  29. Posted by: Dianna Pearl Wood

    As we were sharing information of the Challenger’s unfortunate tragedy a few weeks ago, at first I wasn’t aware at the time of John Denver being chosen for that flight, I’m glad he was too busy to do it. I recall however that John did do a TV documentary special, I didn’t remember the correct title which I finally found it 2-7-23 on Tues. when I was reading Anne Curry’s Blogg, I thought it was “Higher Ground” which I knew he did a character movie in and about Alaska. I remember being in Arizona at Sun City West in one of those vacation condos, I learned that I had forgotten that the TV special is really called “The Higher We Fly” I did remember it was all about all things aeronautical, space technology and biology. I knew he has been in San Diego numerous times and one of those was to visit Palomar Mountain Observatory which I found fascinating, and yes, there is a Palomar College that’s an 8th of a mile from where I currently live. I have Roku TV, so I was able to watch it again. John is the most fascinating and intelligent man there ever was. I miss him-!!!

  30. Posted by: Anne

    Thank you Dianna!

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"It was a heavenly evening of beautiful music, a shining tribute to John Denver, one of which I believe Denver himself would salute."...

R.V. Hight
The Sanford Herald, Greensboro, NC

"I cannot wait for our market to hear Jim’s voice; it truly is spot-on and a beautiful tribute to John’s music."

Lori Kirby, Marketing Director
Capitol Civic Centre, Manitowoc, WI


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