Remembering the Challenger Shuttle Explosion: A Disaster 25 Years Ago
25 years ago today, one of the most tragic events in the history of the United States space program occurred. The Space Shuttle Challenger, on what would have been its 10th mission to space, broke apart 73 seconds after takeoff, ending the mission and the lives of all 7 crew members aboard. But what exactly caused the space shuttle to explode?
The Challenger Space Shuttle (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation OV-099) went on nine successful space flight missions before the disaster that occurred on January 28, 1986. A little over one minute after takeoff, the shuttle began breaking apart. The issues compounded, and eventually the spacecraft reached complete structural failure and crashed.
While several variables ultimately led to the disaster, the originating cause is believed to be due to an o-ring on the right solid-fuel booster. Such o-rings are used to form seals between the various fuel compartments on the boosters. The failure of such an o-ring and the volatility of the fuels surrounding it caused fire to erupt at incorrect places, causing more failures on the Challenger. More fires erupted and explosions occurred, eventually causing the spacecraft to change course in its upward flight. At mach 1.92, it is essential that the space shuttle fly at the proper angle to handle the aerodynamic forces being undertaken. Unfortunately, the correct angle was eventually lost, causing the Challenger to ultimately and catastrophically break apart.
Here is the list of the crew members that were on-board the Challenger on this fateful flight:
- Michael J. Smith
- Dick Scobee
- Ronald McNair
- Ellison Onizuka
- Christa McAuliffe
- Gregory Jarvis
- Judith Resnik
As a result of this disaster, the shuttle fleet of the United State space program was grounded for two and a half years while the disaster was analyzed and improvements made. A special commission, named the Rogers Commission, was tasked with finding out more information surrounding the causes of the disaster. They identified another contributing factor to be the culture of the NASA organization at the time, as well as some of the decision-making processes used.
Below is a video of the disaster: