The Challenger disaster that unfolded on live television, 1986

January 28, 1986, was an exceptionally cold day in Florida, where cold weather is rare. Beaches near the Kennedy Space Center were crowded with people who had come to watch the launch of the Challenger spacecraft, which was postponed for the past several days to great disappointment.

A crew of seven was assigned to the spacecraft. Commander Richard Scobie, pilot Michael Smith, and mission specialists Alison Onizuka, Judith Resnick and Ronald McNair were the astronauts. The appointments of Gregory Jarvi, an aerospace engineer, and Krista McAuliffe, an educator from New Hampshire, were payload specialists.

Although shuttle launches were considered so routine that network television no longer broadcast them, it was of particular interest because a teacher – the first private citizen to go into space – was on board.

High school social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected from eleven thousand applicants and scheduled to teach several lessons during the flight.

Students of all levels of the class awaited him, and busloads of children were brought into the viewing area to watch the launch, as well as many others who were watching from their classes via television.

There were concerns at the Mission Control Center. He asked for three ice inspections of the rocket and shuttle Challenger. The third inspection, shortly before launch, saw ice melt on the launchpad.

The flight was postponed six times due to bad weather and mechanical problems. There was another delay of two hours before dawn. A part of the launch processing system had failed during refueling.

Like all space launches, this one was spectacular – the ship climbed a sparse tower of flames, and luminous rockets rose into a clear blue sky. But then something terrible happened. 73 seconds after liftoff, the rocket's trail of white vapor erupted into giant billowing plumes branching at odd angles.

Those who had seen the previous launches were astonished, but the cheering from the crowd continued until it was suddenly silenced by an announcement over loudspeakers: "Obviously a major malfunction" - and, after a pause "We have a report from the Flight Dynamics Officer that the vehicle exploded."

Later, experts learned that Challenger had not exploded, although most of the media continued to say that it had; In fact, it disintegrated after a fire caused by the effects of cold weather on a poorly designed joint seal due to aerodynamic forces that damaged one of the solid rocket boosters. But when viewed from below, it looked like an explosion and the result was equal. All seven crew members died.

Tapes salvaged from the wreckage showed that Smith had said "uh-oh" just before the breakup, but nothing else was heard. Debris rained in the Atlantic Ocean for more than an hour after the explosion; Searches revealed no sign of the crew.

This was the first death to occur during American space flight. Nineteen years ago three astronauts died from a fire in a capsule test on the ground, but nearly twenty-five years of space flight, fifty-five US missions in a row, without a single flight fatality - an almost miraculous record.

Challenger was broken in the explosion, but the front section with the crew cabin was torn in one piece; It continued to move upward with other debris, including fins and engines still flammable, and then fell into the sea.

It was believed that the crew had survived the initial breakup, but loss of cabin pressure rendered them unconscious within seconds because they were not wearing a pressure suit. The death probably occurred from a lack of oxygen a few minutes before the impact.

The failure was caused by a failure of the O-ring seal used in the joint which was not designed to handle the unusually cold conditions present on this launch.

The failure of the seals caused a breach in the solid rocket booster (SRB) joint, allowing pressurized burning gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and hit the joint attachment hardware and external fuel tank of the adjacent SRB area. Permission granted.

This separated the joint attachment of the aft sector of the right-hand SRB and the structural failure of the external tank. Aerodynamic forces tore the orbiter.

The public, unlike astronauts and other space technology savvy people, began to believe that it was safe to go to space. And so people reacted not only with grief but also with shock.

The whole country and the whole world are shocked by this accident. The kids watching this on live TV were devastated. For many days—and in some cases in the years that followed, many Americans were deeply distressed, far more so than the grief for the victims of other disasters.

Twenty years later an editorial in the North Carolina newspaper Mount Airy News summarized an idea that is often expressed across the United States: "I think of when the shuttle flight ended, when McAuliffe and the other astronauts died... something was lost in our nation. Space was no longer the last frontier to be explored and controlled. It became a dangerous place, empty, and the value of exploring it became a hollow promise, which Couldn't possibly afford the danger or expense."

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