John Denver Dodged Death When He Was Rejected From NASA’s First Citizens’ Trip to Space on the Ill-Fated Challenger

John Denver was one of the biggest country singer-songwriters of the 1970s and was well known for his political activism and humanitarian work. The star was also extremely interested in space travel and almost joined the crew of the ill-fated Challenger

John Denver’s ’70s stardom

John Denver performing onstage
John Denver | Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Denver became a household name in the ’70s, writing hit songs like “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Annie’s Song,” “Leaving, On A Jet Plane,” “Rocky Mountain High,” and “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

He also starred in a series of TV specials, toured all over the world, and picked up Grammys, CMAs, ACMs, and an Emmy. In addition to his career in entertainment, Denver was also extremely interested in air and space travel. 

John Denver’s love of flying and work with NASA

Denver was the son of a U.S. Air Force officer and was always interested in flying. He was an experienced pilot and collected vintage biplanes. He worked with NASA to create the “Citizens in Space” program and was presented with the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal in 1985. 

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After facilitating the creation of “Citizens in Space,” Denver decided he wanted to be one of those citizens and started working to join the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. The singer passed the rigorous mental and physical tests required to go to space and was the leading candidate for NASA’s “first civilian in space” program. Denver planned on writing a song while in space but was ultimately not chosen to join the astronauts.

Instead, public school teacher Christa McAuliffe was chosen. Denver wasn’t the only celebrity that got passed over — Walter Cronkite, Geraldo Rivera, Tom Wolfe, and Big Bird were also not chosen. 

The tragic Challenger mission

Denver was disappointed that he wasn’t able to make it to space, but his disappointment no doubt soon became relief. The Challenger took off on January 28, 1986. 73 seconds after liftoff, the shuttle broke apart, and all seven crew members died. 

The singer paid tribute to the tragedy that same year on his album, One World. Denver wrote “Flying for Me,” with lyrics about his desire to go to space and how McAuliffe was “flying for me.”

John Denver continued to support NASA

Denver continued to support NASA and never gave up on his dream of going to space. He even entered into discussions with the Soviet space program about paying to join one of their space missions. Talks fell through after the singer-songwriter was reportedly presented with a $20 million price tag for the flight. 

The star never made it to space, but he continued collecting and flying planes. This hobby ultimately led to his death in 1997. While test-flying a small plane, Denver crashed and died due to multiple blunt force trauma. He was the only passenger on the plane. 

Millions around the world remember Denver for his musical talents, his work on screen, and his long history of humanitarian work. He never made it to space, but Denver’s fans are glad he dodged the tragic Challenger mission. 

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