1986 Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster

It was on January 28, 1986 at 11:38 A.M. that the shuttle Challenger, NASA flight 51-L, the twenty-fifth shuttle flight, took off. It was the “Teacher in Space” mission. At lift-off, the temperature at ground level was 36° Fahrenheit, which was 15° Fahrenheit cooler than any previous launch by NASA. It was the Challenger’s tenth flight. Take-off had been delayed several times. Finally the shuttle had taken off. The shuttle had climbed high in the sky thirty-five seconds after take-off, and it was getting hit by strong winds. The on board computers were making continuous adjustments so the shuttle would stay on course. About eight miles in the air, about seventy-two seconds after take-off, people watched in fear and horror as the shuttle was engulfed by a huge fire ball. All the crew members were killed instantly.

Engineers and scientists began trying to find what went wrong almost right away. They studied the film of the take-off. When they studied the film, they noticed a small jet of flame coming from inside the casing for one of the rocket boosters. The flame got bigger and bigger. It started to touch a strut that connected the booster to the big fuel tank attached to the space shuttle. About two or three seconds later, hydrogen began leaking from the gigantic fuel tank. About seventy-two seconds after take-off, the hydrogen caught on fire and the booster swung around. That punctured the fuel tank, which caused a big explosion.

Even though people knew what had happened, they didn’t know why it had happened. Gradually people found the answer. Here’s why it happened: the rocket booster’s casing was made in different sections. These sections were attached to each other and sealed together with o-rings-rubber rings. The o-rings were held in their places by the pressure of the hot gasses, which were from the rocket booster after it was ignited. On previous missions of the Challenger, the o-rings were found to be worn away by the hot gasses. The o-rings had been tested and the results had shown that the o-rings were a lot more likely to fail in cold or freezing weather. That was what happened on the cold morning of January 28, 1986.

The people on board the shuttle on January 28, 1986 were Lieutenant Ellison Onizuka, an Air Force Officer; Commander Michael Smith, a Navy officer; Christa McAuliffe, a high-school teacher in New Hampshire; Dick Scobe, a Navy officer; Greg Jarvis, an engineer; Judy Resnik, an astronaut; and Ronald McNair, an astronaut.

Christa McAuliffe was born September 2, 1948 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was a high-school teacher in New Hampshire, as stated earlier. She was chosen out of 11,000 people to be the first civilian astronaut. She had begun teaching in 1970. She couldn’t believe that she was actually going to get to go to space in the shuttle. She was going to teach lessons to kids all across the Untied States, in space, by way of satellite.

Ron McNair was born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. He graduated from North Carolina A in 1971. Then he went on to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and graduated there in 1976. His first shuttle mission was NASA mission STS-11, the Challenger flight on February 1983. He was the second African-American to travel into space. He logged, during his career, 191 hours of flight time.

Dick Scobe was born May 19, 1939, in Cle Elum, Washington. This mission wasn’t Dick Scobe’s first. His first mission had been in April 1984. It was NASA mission 41-C, the “Solar Max Repair” mission. He was the commander of flight 51-L. During his career he logged more than 7,000 hours of flying in 45 different types of aircraft, including 168 hours in space.

Judy Resnik was born April 5, 1949, in Akron, Ohio. This mission wasn’t her first mission. Judy Resnik wasn’t married, so at take-off of mission 51-L, instead of having her own family there, her dad and his wife were there. During her career, she was in space a total of 144 hours and 57 minutes. She was the second American woman in space. Her first mission was the voyage of Discovery, which was launched August 20, 1984, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Greg Jarvis was born August 24, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan. He was a serious and hard-working person, but he was also a fun-loving friend and caring husband. He was the payload specialist on the shuttle on this mission. In 1967 he had graduated from State University of New York in Buffalo.

Ellison S. Onizuka was born June 24, 1946, in Kealakekua, Kona, Hawaii. His first mission was mission 51-C, which was the January 1985 flight of Discovery, which was the first mission flown particularly for the Department of Defense. During his career, he totaled more than 1,700 hours in flight, including 74 hours in space.

Mike J. Smith was born April 30, 1945, in Beaufort, North Carolina. He was an officer in the U.S. Navy. During his career he totaled more than 4,867.7 hours of flying in 20 different kinds of aircraft, both civilian and military.

About a year after the disaster, the families of the victims decided to create space learning centers all around the United States. They decided to call them Challenger Centers . At the Challenger Centers kids and teachers would be able to go on a simulated space flight. The centers allowed lessons in science and math for the kids who went there. That provided opportunities for the kids to work together. The first Challenger center was built in Space City Houston. More and more Challenger Centers were popping out all over the place, slowly, and then faster. New centers were started in Maryland, Florida, Ohio, Connecticut, New York, Canada, Hawaii, California, and Washington. Nine years after the disaster, there were 25 Challenger Centers.

The Challenger was named after an American naval research vessel that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870’s. NASA has made things safer so that a disaster like this won’t happen again.


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