‘A major dysfunction’: the 35th anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger tragedy
As CNN correspondent Tim Mintier and a NASA Official reported, the Space Shuttle Challenger was lifted into the sky on January 28, 1986.
CNN was the only news network covering the live launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Their words were punctuated with long pauses of silence as the screen showed what looked like an explosion.
“Obviously a major malfunction,” said the NASA official.
“They’re holding their breath like I’m sure everyone else is,” Mintier said.
The NASA official then said the dreaded words: “We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle exploded. … We are looking, checking with the recovery forces to see what can be done at this point.
Today marks the 35th anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and its seven crew members.
Barely 73 seconds after the start of its mission on January 28, 1986, the shuttle was severely torn apart, sending the crew to their deaths – Francis R. Scobee, mission commander; Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist; Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist; Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; Ellison S. Onizuka, Mission Specialist; and Christa McAuliffe, a space and payload teacher.
President Ronald Reagan, who had planned to deliver a State of the Union address that day but canceled it, said: “For the families of the Seven, we cannot stand, like you, the full impact of this tragedy. But we feel the loss and we think of you a lot.
Your loved ones were bold and courageous, and they had that special grace, that special spirit that said, “Give me a challenge and I will meet it with joy.” They were thirsty to explore the universe and discover its truths. They wanted to serve, and they did. They served us all.
Helicopters, ships and planes began a recovery mission after debris stopped falling from the sky, which took about 15 minutes.
“I regret to have to report that based on very preliminary research of the ocean where Challenger impacted this morning, this research revealed no evidence that the Challenger crew survived,” said Jesse Moore, Associate Administrator from NASA.
The Associated Press reported: “The accident defied quick explanation, although a replay in slow motion appeared to show an initial problem with one of the two peelable rocket thrusters followed by the detonation of the huge tank of external fuel from the shuttle. The tank explosion destroyed the Challenger over the Atlantic as families of the crew and NASA officials watched desperately from Cape Town.
McAuliffe was to be the first teacher in space. Some students, including McAuliffe’s, were watching the takeoff live on television. Eighteen students were in the audience at Cape Canaveral with McAuliffe’s family.
“Within seconds, a group died in silence as hundreds of friends, students and colleagues of Christa McAuliffe watched the Challenger shuttle take off yesterday and then explode,” The Associated Press of Concord, NH reported.
Speaking to the students, Reagan said, “And I want to say something to the school children in America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle takeoff. I know it’s hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen.
It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It’s all part of taking a chance and expanding human horizons.
The future does not belong to the faint hearted; it belongs to the brave. The Challenger crew was training us in the future and we will continue to follow them.
Challenger’s mission lasted only 1 minute and 13 seconds. He traveled 18 miles.
Challenger disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Canaveral, Florida. The rupture was attributed to faulty O-rings in the right rocket thruster. The seal had become brittle from the cold weather that morning.
Of history.com, “It was later determined that two rubber O-rings, which had been designed to separate the rocket thruster sections, had failed due to the cold temperatures on the morning of launch. The tragedy and its aftermath received extensive media coverage and prompted NASA to temporarily suspend all shuttle missions.
… The morning of Jan. 28 was unusually cold, and engineers warned their superiors that some components – particularly the rubber O-rings that sealed the seals on the shuttle’s solid rocket thrusters – were vulnerable to low temperature failure. However, these warnings were not heeded and at 11:39 a.m. the Challenger took off. “
Several crew members are known to have survived the initial rupture – four “Personal Egress Air Packs” were found to have been activated. But the impact of the crew cabin – 2 minutes and 45 seconds after launch – with the ocean surface could not survive.
Divers from the USS Preserver found the crew compartment on the ocean floor on March 7. The remains of the seven crew members were found in the compartment.
The “Presidential Commission Report on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident” on the cause of the crash reads: “The consensus of the Commission and the participating investigative agencies is that the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger has was caused by a failure of the between the two lower segments of the right Solid Rocket engine.
The specific failure was the destruction of the seals which are intended to prevent hot gases from leaking through the seal during the combustion of the rocket engine propellant. The evidence gathered by the Commission indicates that no other element of the Space Shuttle system contributed to this failure. “
Reagan concluded his speech by saying, “The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger honored us with the way they have lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey, said goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of the earth’ to ‘touch the face of God’.