Challenger disaster marks 29th anniversary
Where were you in January 28, 1986? I was in Tahlequah Oklahoma at the Sonic car hop waiting for my Fish sandwich, onion rings and lemonade when the girl bringing me my food asked me “what do you think of the space shuttle blowing up?” I thought she was joking, I laughed and said “you’re too funny” and moments later sitting there eating my food I suddenly lost my appetite when I heard the radio announce “The Space Shuttle Challenger explodes 72 seconds into its flight”
In 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated over Cape Canaveral, killing 7 crew members including Christa McAuliffe, a teacher who was suppose to be the first “citizen in space.” The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after lifting off from Kennedy Space Center. All seven crew members died in the explosion, which was blamed on faulty o-rings in the shuttle’s booster rockets.
Man’s dream of conquering space died a little yesterday.
In a boiling maelstrom of flame, the shuttle Challenger disintegrated 72 seconds into a flight from Cape Canaveral, killing teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first “citizen in space,” and her six astronaut companions. America’s ambitious venture to reach beyond our world suddenly became more costly, and President Reagan and the nation mourned the loss of “seven heroes.”
“This is truly a national loss,” Reagan said in a national eulogy after canceling his planned State of the Union address last night. “We mourn seven heroes… who escaped the surly bounds of Earth to touch the face of God.”
It was the first in-flight disaster in the 25-year, 56-launch history of the U.S. space program – and the worst recorded disaster for either the Americans or Soviets. NASA immediately suspended its ambitious 1986 shuttle until it can determine why Challenger exploded. “We’re obviously not going to pick any flight activity until we fully understand what the circumstances were relative to launch,” Jesse Moore, associate administrator for spaceflight, said Cape Canaveral. Moore declined to speculate about how long an investigation might take. One area of concern was the amount of ice that formed on the launch pad before the takeoff. Temperatures plunged to a low of 24 degrees overnight and the wind chill at the top of the 250-foot launch tower reached 10 below zero. Water systems were left running to keep lines open. Icicles then formed at various places on the pad.
The countdown leading to the tragic launch was put on hold about 9:08 a.m. and resumed two hours later following inspection of the ice by a team of specialists. One of the victims, McAuliffe, was a high school social studies teacher in Concord, N.H., who had been chosen from 11,146 teachers to become the first “ordinary” citizen in space. Another victim was physicist Ronald McNair, 36, whose father Carl operated an automobile body repair shop in Harlem until about eight months ago. McAuliffe, 37, had planned to give two 15-minute lessons from space, with the PBS public television networked beaming them to 25 million students in school from Florida to Canada and Alaska. Her husband, Steven, and children, Scott, 9, and Caroline, 6, were watching from a VIP stand at the launch site, with Christa’s parents, Edward and Grace Corrigan.
As Challenger exploded into a boiling ball of flame, the Corrigans grabbed each other, but it was not until several seconds later that they appeared to understand what had happened. Francis Scobee, 46, was the commander of the planned six-day flight, which had intended to release and retrieve one satellite to study Halley’s comet and to launch another satellite that would become part of the space communications network. Other members of the doomed crew were co-pilot Michael Smith, 40, Judith Resnik, 36, Ellison Onizuka, 39, and satellite engineer Gregor Jarvis, 41. On Jan. 28, 1986, millions of people watched with excitement when the Challenger space shuttle took off from its Florida launch pad — but the excitement quickly turned into horror when it exploded just 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all 7 astronauts on board.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration refused to predict the disaster’s impact on the U.S. space program, beyond saying that it would temporarily suspended flights. The last flight of Challenger started in the usual flawless, spectacular fashion: The gleaming craft, one of four in the NASA shuttle fleet, had risen from Launch Pad 39-B at 11:38 a.m. after five postponements caused by freezing weather and technical glitches.
It was climbing smoothly, trailing a spectacular but normal 700-foot geyser of fire, when suddenly it erupted in a huge boiling ball of fire and shot out of control.
The news sent shock waves around the world. The crew of the space shuttle Challenger. From left, first row: Michael J. Smith, Francis R. (Dick) Scobee and Ronald E. McNair. Second row, from left: Ellison S. Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith A. Resnik. Reagan was presiding over a meeting in the Oval Office when aides rushed in to tell him of the Challenger disaster. He watched a replay on office television set, then announced that he was postponing his State of the Union Address, which had been slated for last night, for one week. Reagan also ordered Vice President Bush to fly to Cape Canaveral to lead the investigation.
The flight was the 10th for the workhorse Challenger and the 25th shuttle flight, and its loss was the worst setback for NASA since the first Apollo moon capsule burned as it sat on its launching pad during a simulated liftoff 19 years and one day ago. Killed in the explosion were astronauts Virgil (Gus) Grissom, Edward White 2d and Roger B. Chaffee.
Amid confusion over the future of the space program, Reagan said that he was sure that NASA would launch no missions pending the outcome of the Challenger investigation. This might take a year or longer, some experts said. NASA said the Challenger missions seemed entirely normal until one minute 12-seconds after launch, when the shuttle had reached a speed of 1,977 miles per hour – three times the speed of sound. At that point, it was 10.4 miles up and eight miles offshore. Mission control in Houston told the shuttle “Challenger, go at throttle-up” – an order to switch to full power. Scobee increased power to the main engines and, in his final words, said, “Roger, go at throttle-up.” Suddenly, the spacecraft was engulfed in a ball of flame. On a slow-motion video rerun of the explosion, it was difficult to determine the source of the explosion. But closeups of the doomed craft clearly showed that the huge fuel tank, filled with more than 525,000 gallons of volatile liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellant, ruptured and tore Challenger into many pieces.
Boosters fly off
After the explosion, the two solid fuel booster rockets – capable of 2.6 million pounds of thrust – separated and continued to fly crazily out of control in the clear blue sky, trailing long tails of smoke as they plunged into the sea.
A voice on public address system at mission control said, “Flight controllers here after looking very carefully at the situation, obviously a major malfunction.” “We have no down link,” he added, meaning that there was no communication from the orbiter. After a 40-second pause, he said: “We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded. (The) flight director confirms that we are out looking at checking with the recovery forces to see what can be done.” Debris raining down from the $1.2 billion craft, which exploded at an altitude of just over 54,000 feet, prevented rescue squads from entering the area for an hour, a Defense Department spokesman said. Mission control reported that the spacecraft had exploded and fallen in bits into the Atlantic in an area about 18 miles off Cape Canaveral and the ships and planes were en route.
Shortly after the explosion, the House of Representatives held a moment of silence to honor those on the shuttle. Chaplain James David Ford led members in a prayer – “May your spirit, oh Lord, be with them.”
Unlike the shuttle Columbia during its first flights at the dawn of the shuttle era, Challenger was not equipped with ejection seats or other ways for the crew to get out of the spacecraft. Not that it would have made any difference, said experts who saw the explosion.
“We will remember each of these flight member in our prayers always as they have cut new paths for us to fear nothing and reach for everything” ~Lisa Christiansen
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