January 28th, 1986 was meant to be an historic day, but turned into one of tragedy. Just 73 seconds into its flight, the Challenger Space Shuttle broke apart, causing the untimely death of seven crew members. The cause of the mishap was a faulty O-ring seal on the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster, which allowed pressurized hot gas from the rocket motor to reach the outside hardware and fuel tank.
This particular flight was delayed a few times prior to it’s launch date. Originally it was going into space on January 22nd, but due to delays with a previous mission, bad weather, and changes regarding the Transoceanic Abort Landing, the 28th – despite being unusually cold that day – was the chosen date.
On the morning of the disaster, the primary O-ring had become so hard due to the cold that it could not seal in time. Data recorded of the take-off reported a sudden lateral acceleration that some believe the astronauts probably witnessed while aboard (The last statement captured by the crew cabin was “Uh Oh”, spoken by Pilot Michael J. Smith.)
One of the most interesting crew members was a 37-year-old school teacher named Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to participate in the NASA Teacher In Space program, and as a member of the crew, she was preparing to conduct experiments and teach lessons while aboard the shuttle. She narrowed out the other finalists with her personality and spirit. NASA official Alan Ladwig said “she had an infectious enthusiasm,” when asked what made her application stand out from the other qualified teachers.
The media welcomed McAuliffe with open arms – in fact, her appearance on late night talk shows garnered a ton of interest in the flight. Being a teacher, a lot of schools throughout the country decided to air the broadcast of the flight live to their students. According to the New York Times, 48% of 9 to 13-year-olds watched the shuttle blow up live. As you’d believe – it was pretty devastating. Quite possibly even super traumatic.
We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’
After the accident, NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet was grounded for almost three years. Some of the ships’ debris was recovered as late as 1996, which was 11 years after the incident took place.
Many memorials have been created for the crew. The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference has been held in New Hampshire every year since 1986, and is devoted to the use of technology in all aspects of education. Many schools across the country are named after both the shuttle, and the astronauts who lost their lives.
Were you one of the students that saw this disaster live? Do you think NASA has been able to recover since this happened?