On the morning of 28 January 1986, NASA lost its first astronauts to an in-space accident when all seven members of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew were lost when a booster engine failed and caused the Challenger to break apart just 73 seconds after launch. Killed in that accident were Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Nearly thirty years later, in May 2015, the online world contemplated a conspiracy rumor questioning whether the Challenger crew was in fact still alive, as evidenced by the fact that persons resembling those original crew members (at the approximate ages they would be now), and bearing similar or identical names, are still living and working in the United States:

What if I were to tell you that most, if not all, of Challenger’s 7 crew members are still alive and thriving in their new professions, contrary to what we’ve been told?

It’s one thing that one of the Challenger’s crew members resembles someone alive today. For that, we can chalk it up to a coincidence.

Itâ??s another thing entirely that SIX members of the Challenger crew have doppelgängers who are alive, in some cases with exactly the same names (Richard Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Judith Resnick, Sharon McAuliffe). What are the chances of that?

You don’t have to be an expert in mathematics to know that those odds defy statistical probability.

This exercise is an amusing example of how easy it is to weave a compelling conspiracy theory out of a few suggestive elements, but its premise defies credulity: NASA faked (for no explicable reason) the deaths of seven astronauts in a catostrophic shuttle accident, then allowed those astronauts to openly live out the rest of their lives back home without even taking the basic steps of disguising their physical appearances or real names — and nobody noticed it until nearly 30 years later.

All this conspiracy exercise really demonstrates is that you can sometimes find two people with the same name who bear a passing resemblance to each other. To wit:

Born on May 19, 1939, Commander Francis Richard Scobee was 46 when he died in the Challenger explosion. He would be 75 years old if he were alive today.Strangely, there’s a man also named Richard Scobee, the CEO of a Chicago marketing-advertising company called Cows in Trees, who bears a striking resemblance (factoring in the 30-year timelapse) to Commander Richard Scobee — same high forehead, same eyebrows, same wide-set eyes that are slightly tilted down in their outer corners.

These two Scobees are similar in appearance, but there are distinct differences that can’t be accounted for by the passage of years (such as the difference in ear shapes). Moreover, at the time that Francis Richard Scobee, the former Air Force pilot, was training with NASA as an astronaut and serving as an instructor pilot for the shuttle’s 747 carrier aircraft, Richard Scobee, the current CEO of Cows in Trees, was serving as CEO and President of The Marketing Edge, Inc. in Chicago. The same man couldn’t have been holding down two such disparate jobs, in two widely separated geographic locations, at the same time.

Born on Oct. 21, 1950, Challenger’s mission specialist Ronald McNair, the second African-American astronaut, with a Ph.D. in physics, would be 64 years old if he had not perished in the space shuttle explosion. If Ronald (l) were still alive today, he would look just like this pic of his brother, Carl (r).