On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart during take-off. All of the seven crewmembers died in the accident including a schoolteacher from New Hampshire named Christa McAuliffe.
What is a Space Shuttle?
The Space Shuttle was the world's first reusable manned spacecraft. It was launched with the help of rocket boosters that would detach during flight. Once in orbit, astronauts and scientists aboard the Space Shuttle would perform experiments, launch satellites, and work on the International Space Station. When landing, the Space Shuttle would glide to a runway landing. The last Space Shuttle flight took place in 2011.
The Challenger Before the Disaster
Before the disaster, the Challenger had flown 9 successful missions starting in 1983. Most of the missions lasted around one week. The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, as well as the first African-American in space, Guion Bluford, both flew their historic flights aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.
After several delays, the Challenger was set to take off on the morning of January 28, 1986. It was a cold morning and much of the shuttle was covered with ice. By 11:00 a.m., NASA engineers had determined that the ice had melted and the Challenger could launch.
The countdown to lift off commenced and at 11:39 a.m., the Challenger took off. At first, everything seemed fine. The Challenger launched into the sky and was gaining speed. However, at 50,800 feet, something went wrong. The Challenger broke apart in flight taking with it the lives of the seven astronauts.
What Caused the Disaster
The disaster was investigated by a commission appointed by President Ronald Reagan. They discovered that a part called an "O-ring" seal on the rocket booster had failed largely due to the cold temperatures.
Space Shuttle Challenger Crew. Photo by NASA
Dick Scobee - The commander of the mission. He had piloted the Challenger on a previous mission.
Mike Smith - Mike was the shuttle pilot. He was a veteran of the Vietnam War and a father of three.
Judith Resnik - Judith was an engineer and a mission specialist. She was the second American woman in space.
Ellison Onizuka - Ellison was an engineer and a mission specialist. He had flown on the Space Shuttle Discovery and was the first Asian American into space.
Ronald McNair - Ronald was a physicist and a mission specialist on the flight. He became the second African American in space during an earlier Challenger flight.
Gregory Jarvis - Gregory was satellite design engineer and a payload specialist.
Christa McAuliffe - Christa was schoolteacher from New Hampshire. She was selected from thousands of teachers to join the Challenger flight and become the first schoolteacher in space.
For the next two years, NASA halted all space shuttle flights. Many of the parts were redesigned for added safety. Also, new procedures were put into place to insure this wouldn't happen again.
Interesting Facts About the Space Shuttle Challenger
The Challenger was the first Space Shuttle to launch at night.
Classrooms around the U.S. were watching the launch because of Christa McAuliffe. As a result, around 17 percent of Americans saw the launch of the Challenger live.
The final flight lasted 73 seconds.
In 2003, another disaster occurred when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered the Earth's atmosphere.
The last words heard from the shuttle were from the pilot Smith who said "Uhh ...oh!"
The investigation found that many people knew of the potential flaw to the seals, but their warnings were ignored.