Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
Challenger's solid rocket boosters fly uncontrollably after the breakup of the external tank separated them from the shuttle stack. The remains of the orbiter and tank leave thin white contrails as they fall toward the Atlantic Ocean.
DateJanuary 28, 1986 (1986-01-28)
Time11:39:13 EST (16:39:13 UTC)
LocationAtlantic Ocean, off the coast of Florida
Coordinates28°38′24″N 80°16′48″W / 28.64000°N 80.28000°W / 28.64000; -80.28000
CauseO-ring seal failure in right SRB due to cold weather and wind shear
Outcome
  • Loss of Challenger and crew
  • Teacher in Space Project and subsequent civilian shuttle spaceflights cancelled
  • Shuttle fleet grounded for implementation of safety measures
  • Construction of replacement orbiter Endeavour.
Deaths
InquiriesRogers Commission Report

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members aboard. The spacecraft disintegrated 46,000 feet (14 km) above the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:39 a.m. EST (16:39 UTC). It was the first fatal accident involving an American spacecraft while in flight.[1][2]

The mission, designated STS-51-L, was the 10th flight for the orbiter and the 25th flight of the Space Shuttle fleet. The crew was scheduled to deploy a communications satellite and study Halley's Comet while they were in orbit, in addition to taking schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe into space under the Teacher In Space program. The latter task resulted in a higher-than-usual media interest in and coverage of the mission; the launch and subsequent disaster were seen live in many schools across the United States.

The cause of the disaster was the failure of the primary and secondary redundant O-ring seals in a joint in the shuttle's right solid rocket booster (SRB). The record-low temperatures on the morning of the launch had stiffened the rubber O-rings, reducing their ability to seal the joints. Shortly after liftoff, the seals were breached, and hot pressurized gas from within the SRB leaked through the joint and burned through the aft attachment strut connecting it to the external propellant tank (ET), then into the tank itself. The collapse of the ET's internal structures and the rotation of the SRB that followed threw the shuttle stack, traveling at a speed of Mach 1.92, into a direction that allowed aerodynamic forces to tear the orbiter apart. Both SRBs detached from the now-destroyed ET and continued to fly uncontrollably until the range safety officer destroyed them.

The crew compartment, human remains, and many other fragments from the shuttle were recovered from the ocean floor after a three-month search-and-recovery operation. The exact timing of the deaths of the crew is unknown, but several crew members are thought to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. The orbiter had no escape system, and the impact of the crew compartment at terminal velocity with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.

The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the Space Shuttle program. President Ronald Reagan created the Rogers Commission to investigate the accident. The commission criticized NASA's organizational culture and decision-making processes that had contributed to the accident. Test data since 1977 demonstrated a potentially catastrophic flaw in the SRBs' O-rings, but neither NASA nor SRB manufacturer Morton Thiokol had addressed this known defect. NASA managers also disregarded engineers' warnings about the dangers of launching in cold temperatures and did not report these technical concerns to their superiors.

As a result of this disaster, NASA established the Office of Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance, and arranged for deployment of commercial satellites from expendable launch vehicles rather than from a crewed orbiter. To replace Challenger, the construction of a new Space Shuttle orbiter, Endeavour, was approved in 1987, and the new orbiter first flew in 1992. Subsequent missions were launched with redesigned SRBs and their crews wore pressurized suits during ascent and reentry.

  1. ^ Lotito, Jennifer. "3 Leadership Lessons From The Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster". Forbes. Archived from the original on January 28, 2024. Retrieved January 28, 2024.
  2. ^ "Challenger explosion was 38 years ago today; Naples' readers recall event". Naples Daily News. Archived from the original on January 28, 2024. Retrieved January 28, 2024.