Remembering The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: 27 Years Ago Today
January 28, 2013

Remembering The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster: 27 Years Ago Today

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

Today marks the 27th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, which ended the lives of seven crew members.

On January 28, 1986, Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing NASA astronauts Greg Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Michael J. Smith and Dick Scobee, along with NH school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

McAuliffe was the first member of the Teacher in Space Project, and was on her way to becoming the first female teacher in space.

The launch had experienced multiple delays, due to bad weather, as well as problems with the exterior access hatch. One of the micro-switch indicators used to verify that the hatch was safely locked malfunctioned. Then, a bolt prevented the closeout crew from removing a fixture from the orbiter's hatch.

After launch, the spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida. The entire vehicle began to disintegrate after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster failed.

This failure caused a breach in the SRB joint, and allowed pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB attachment hardware and external fuel tank.

The NASA tragedy led to a 32-month-long hiatus from the space shuttle program, during which a special commission set off to investigate the accident.

The Rogers Commission, appointed by President Ronald Reagan, found that NASA's organizational culture and decision-making processes had played a role in contributing factors to the accident.

According to the investigation, managers at NASA had known contractor Morton Thiokol's design of the SRBs contained a potential flaw in the O-rings since 1977. Managers also disregarded warnings from engineers about the dangers launching posed due to low temperatures that fateful morning. Bob Ebeling from Thiokol had reportedly said that launch conditions were only qualified to take place at 40 degrees.

It wasn't until September 29, 1988 that NASA finally launched another space shuttle after the tragedy, carrying five crew members. Another disaster would not happen again until February 1, 2003.

(Image Below) Caption: NASA Space Shuttle Challenger Explodes 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew aboard. Credit: Kennedy Space Center