Scobee was born May 19, 1939, in Cle Elum, Washington to Francis William Scobee and Edlynn (Miller) Scobee, he attended Washington Elementary School, Cascade Middle School, and Auburn Senior High School, from which he graduated in 1957.
Scobee enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1957, where he served as a reciprocating engine mechanic at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. While off duty, he attended San Antonio College, and eventually received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Arizona in 1965. He was a member of Tau Beta Pi. In 1965, he was awarded an officer's commission. Afterward, he attended flight school and earned his pilot wings in 1966, serving as a combat aviator in the Vietnam War. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and other decorations.
After his tour of duty, Scobee attended the USAF Aerospace Research Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, 100 miles north of Los Angeles, California. Upon graduation in 1972, he became an Air Force test pilot, logging thousands of hours of flight time in dozens of aircraft, including the Boeing 747, the experimental X-24B lifting body, the F-111 Aardvark, and the gigantic C-5 Galaxy.
Selected for NASA Astronaut Corps in January 1978, Scobee completed his training in August 1979. While awaiting his first orbital spaceflight mission, he served as an instructor pilot for the Shuttle's 747 carrier aircraft. In April 1984, he piloted Challenger mission STS-41-C, which successfully deployed one satellite and repaired another.
Scobee was assigned commander for the ill-fated STS-51-L mission. The mission, designed to deploy a satellite to study the approaching Halley's Comet and to inaugurate the Teacher in Space Project, was delayed numerous times due to bad weather and technical glitches. When the mission finally did lift off the pad, a solid rocket booster O-ring seal failure destroyed the shuttle 73 seconds into the flight, killing him and the other six crew members; the disaster, viewed live on national television, prompted several days of national mourning, as well as a major shakeup at NASA. He died a lieutenant colonel. At T+68 into the mission, the CAPCOM Richard Covey informed the crew that they were "go at throttle up", and Scobee confirmed the call – his last recorded words were his response, "Roger, go at throttle up." The shuttle broke up 73 seconds into the flight, and at an altitude of 48,000 feet (14.6 km).
Some experts, including one of NASA's lead investigators, Robert Overmyer, who was closest to Scobee, believed most if not all of the crew were alive and possibly conscious during the entire descent until impact with the ocean. After the investigation, Overmyer stated, "I not only flew with Dick Scobee, we owned a plane together, and I know Scob did everything he could to save his crew. Scob fought for any and every edge to survive. He flew that ship without wings all the way down."
Scobee was married to Virginia June Kent and had two children, Kathie R. Scobee Fulgham and Major General Richard W. Scobee. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. June remarried in 1989 to retired Army LTG Don Rodgers. Richard graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy, has flown F-16s for the USAF, and has commanded the 944th Fighter Wing, the 301st Fighter Wing, and 10th Air Force. He led the military flyover during the pregame of Super Bowl XXX, which was played on the 10th anniversary of the disaster in 1996. He was promoted to brigadier general in December 2010.
His niece is Amy Scobee.
On July 9, 1994, the San Antonio College Planetarium was rededicated The Scobee Planetarium. In 2004, Scobee was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor and was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. After the Challenger disaster, a number of schools, streets, and municipal facilities in the U.S. were renamed in his honor. North Auburn Elementary School in Auburn, WA was renamed Dick Scobee Elementary, and Auburn Municipal Airport became Dick Scobee Field. Dick Scobee Road in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, along with Ronald McNair Boulevard and Christa McAuliffe Street, commemorate Scobee and his fellow Challenger crew members. In Houston, Texas' George Bush Park, there is a R/C (Remote Controlled) Flying Field named in his honor. He was portrayed by Barry Bostwick in the 1990 TV movie Challenger. He also made an appearance in the Imax documentary The Dream is Alive, shot during the STS-41C mission. Dick Scobee Elementary was dedicated in a ceremony attended by June.