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The Challenger Disaster

The Challenger Crew

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched with astronauts Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. The press coverage for the flight and launch was extensive because teacher Christa McAuliffe was the first teacher of the Teacher in Space Project to travel into space.


The Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight at 11:38 EST at 48,000 feet.  The Shuttle disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, resulting in the deaths of its seven crew members.  The right solid rocket booster (SRB) O-ring seal (which was not certified to function at the frigid 18 degrees of the launch day) failed at liftoff, allowing pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to escape outside and come into contact with and caused the failure of the adjacent SRB attachment hardware and the external fuel tank.  Aerodynamic forces of 20 Gs promptly broke up the orbiter.

Challenger Breaks Apart

The shuttle had no escape system and the astronauts did not survive the 200 mph impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface. The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were recovered from the ocean floor.  The final report concluded that the cause of death of the astronauts could not be determined.  Their deaths plunged the nation into mourning.  President Reagan consoled the nation when he spoke soon after the incident.

Tomorrow, President Reagan Consoles a Nation   Rita Bay

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