The entire world was watching. The media coverage was so extensive that more than 85% American learnt of the event within one hour of the mishap. On Tuesday, January 28, 1986, spacecraft of NASA, named Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart after just 73 seconds into its 10th space flight. After Columbia, the Challenger was the second Space Shuttle of NASA and it had completed nine successful missions before it met the accident at 48,000 feet above the ground. In the event all seven members of the crew died. This iconic photograph, shows the plume of smoke from crashing Challenger. The photograph was taken by the Kennedy Space Center.
After its maiden flight in April 1983, Challenger quickly became the workhorse of NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet, flying far more missions per year than its predecessor; Columbia. The final mission of Challenger was called STS-51-L; and its crew members were Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik. It is not known exactly when and how the crew members died in the accident but it is believed that when the disintegrated crew compartment hit the Atlantic ocean’s surface at a speed of 206 miles per hour; the crew member could not have survived the impact. Bodies of all the crew were found trapped inside the compartment at about 100 feet below the water surface.
There was no explosion in the spacecraft, but it rapidly disintegrated under the pressure from aerodynamic forces. The crew had no escape route and therefore they could not leave the spacecraft. This disaster forced NASA to put break on its space flights for 32 months while it contemplated about the crew safety measures. The Rogers Commission was appointed to look into the causes of the accident. The commission found that NASA’s organizational culture and decision-making processes had been a key contributing factor to the accident. The managers knew of a potential flaw in the O-rings being used in the spacecraft but they ignored the risk.
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Did you know?
- Endeavor, the Space Shuttle that took place of Challenger, was built using the spare parts that were meant for Challenger and its fleet.
- Challenger was named after HMS Challenger, a British vessel, and the Challenger lunar module of the Apollo 17
- Crew member Christa McAuliffe was a teacher and the first member of the Teacher In Space Program (TISP). For this reason, the launch of Challenger was shown live in many schools. Understandably, a lot of students felt devastated after seeing the Space Shuttle breaking into pieces.
- Challenger holds the record for the largest crew, eight passengers, ever to fly in space on a single mission (61-A) in 1985.
- Disintegration of the entire vehicle began after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff
Following is a video footage from CNN that shows launch and accident of the spcaecraft:
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