Man's progress in science and discovery has had many pitfalls, failures and tragedies. Even in earliest mythology, Icarus perished. But Man has always found a way to progress. Here is a tribute to the brave astronauts of the Space Shuttle Challenger 30 years ago.
On January 28, 1986, the American shuttle orbiter Challenger broke up 73 seconds after liftoff, bringing a devastating end to the spacecraft’s 10th mission. The disaster claimed the lives of all seven astronauts aboard, including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire who had been selected to join the mission and teach lessons from space to schoolchildren around the country.
It was later determined that two rubber O-rings, which had been designed to separate the sections of the rocket booster, had failed due to cold temperatures on the morning of the launch. The tragedy and its aftermath received extensive media coverage and prompted NASA to temporarily suspend all shuttle missions.
In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft, known as the space shuttle. Five years later, shuttle flights began when Columbia traveled into space on a 54-hour mission. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider. Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments.Challenger, NASA’s second space shuttle to enter service, embarked on its maiden voyage on April 4, 1983, and made a total of nine voyages prior to 1986. That year, it was scheduled to launch on January 22 carrying a seven-member crew that included Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies instructor from New Hampshire who had earned a spot on the mission through NASA’s Teacher in Space Program. After undergoing months of training, she was set to become the first ordinary American citizen to travel into space.
Challenger’s Catastrophic Launch
The mission’s launch from Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, was delayed for six days due to weather and technical problems. The morning of January 28 was unusually cold, and engineers warned their superiors that certain components—particularly the rubber O-rings that sealed the joints of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters—were vulnerable to failure at low temperatures. However, these warnings went unheeded, and at 11:39 a.m. Challenger lifted off.
Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including the families of McAuliffe and the other astronauts on board, stared in disbelief as the shuttle broke up in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. Within instants, the spacecraft broke apart and plunged into the ocean, killing its entire crew, traumatizing the nation and throwing NASA’s shuttle program into turmoil.