On January 28th 1986. STS 51-L was on the launch pad to prepare for it’s 25th mission under the NASA Space Shuttle Program. The mission was for the Spaceshuttle Challenger to carry out routine transportation for Earth-to-orbit crew and cargo, it’s cargo was to deploy a satellite to study Haley’s Comment. What made this flight special it held the first US civilian teacher on board and it was the final flight for the Spaceshuttle Challenger. The crew was made up of seven astronauts,
Lt Col Dick Scobee who was an Air Force Pilot, and commander of the Challenger. Colonel Scobee had been flying a test pilot flying the the Boeing 747, X-47, the F-111 and the C-5 Galaxy. Colonel Scobee logged over several thousand hours as a pilot. He was selected to join the NASA Astronaut core in 1978 as he waited for his slot to fly he served as a 747 pilot shuttling the space shuttle.
Captain Michael Smith, who was a US Navy pilot, flew as the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. Captain Smith flew the A-6 for the US Navy and was a test pilot for the Navy also. During his Naval career, Captain Smith flew 28 different types of civilian and military aircraft and logged 4,867 hours of flying time. He joined the NASA Astronaut program in 1980.
Colonel Ellison Onziuak, was an Air Force Pilot. He was apart of the Air Force Test program at Edwards managing the A-7, A-37, T-38, F-4, T-3 and NKC-135. While serving at Edwards he racked up more then 1,700 hours of flying. Colonel Onziuak was selected to join the NASA Astronaut core in 1978. He also had more then five days in space flying on SLS-51-C onboard the Spaceshuttle Discovery.
Judith Resnik joined NASA in 1978. She was one of six women out of 8,000 women during this time to join NASA. Judith was a pilot, and an engineer. She is also the first Jewish American and Jewish woman in space. She was the second US woman to fly into space and the fourth. She had racked up over 5 days on mission STS-41-D onboard the Spaceshuttle Discovery.
Ronald McNair, joined NASA in 1978. He was one of ten people to be selected out of 10,000 applications. He flew on STS-41-B aboard Challenger* from February 3 to February 11, 1984, as a mission specialist becoming the second African American and the first Bahá’í to fly in space. Ronald spent 7 days in space.
Captain Gregory Jarvis, was an Air Force Captain, He was Hughe Aircraft’s Payload specialist. This was his first flight into Space and had never spent anytime in it before.
Christia McAuliffe, was an American teacher. She was selected from more then 11,000 applications. This was due to President Regan’s Teacher in Space Program. On July 19, 1985 VP George H W Bush Announced she had been selected to be the first civilian teacher to fly into space. NASA official Alan Ladwig said “she had an infectious enthusiasm”, and NASA psychiatrist Terrence McGuire told New Woman magazine that “she was the most broad-based, best-balanced person of the 10.”
This mission was planned to deploy the second in a series of Tracking and Data Relays, carry out the first flight of the Shuttle-Pointed Tool for Astronomy (SPARTAN-203) / Halley’s Comet Experiment Deployable in order to observe Halley’s Comet. And to carry out several lessons from space as part of the Teacher in Space Program and to involved the Shuttle Student Involvement Program (SSIP).
At 16:37:53 on the 28th, the main engines ignited. Launch of the Spaceshuttle Challenger has began. The Shuttle began it’s operational take off, everything from the ground look good. 58 seconds into the flight a white pump was noticed on the right SBR attachment. Within a second, the plume became well defined and intense. Internal pressure in the right SRB began to drop because of the rapidly enlarging hole in the failed joint. At the 60 second mark there was visual evidence of flame burning through the joint and impinging on the external tank. 64 seconds into launch the plume changed shape, indicating that a leak had begun in the liquid hydrogen tank, located in the aft portion of the external tank. Because of the yaw the onboard computer’s compensate for the unbalanced thrust produced by the booster burn-through. 72 seconds into launch, the right booster pulled away The last statement captured by the crew cabin recorder came just half a second after this acceleration, when Michael Smith said, “Uh Oh”. At 48 thousand feet the shuttle began to the external tank began to disintegrate. The Shuttle veered from its correct attitude with respect to the local airflow, resulting in up to 20G.
76 seconds into the flight the shuttle broke up, the rocket boosters separated and continue to fly.
With in minutes NASA began cleaning up debris from the accident. NASA deployed ships normally to recover the rocket boosters to began searching for parts, as well as SAR aircraft. During this time debris was still falling from the accident. With help from the Department of Defense to search for parts the Coast Guard, “the operation was the largest surface search in which they had participated.” Searching lasted until February. On March 7th divers were able locate all seven astronauts. e crew cabin was severely crushed and fragmented from the extreme impact forces; one member of the search team described it as “largely a pile of rubble with wires protruding from it”
NASA’s official report says that they are not sure if they survived the initial break up. Though three of the four recovered Personal Egress Air Packs( (PEAPs) on the flight deck were found to have been activated. On July 28, 1986, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Flight, former astronaut Richard Turly released a report on the deaths of the crew from the director of Space and Life Sciences at the Johnston Space Center along with Dr Joseph Kerwin who also was a veteran astronaut along the SkyLab. According to the Kerwin Report:
The findings are inconclusive. The impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was so violent that evidence of damage occurring in the seconds which followed the disintegration was masked. Our final conclusions are:
the cause of death of the Challenger* astronauts cannot be positively determined;
the forces to which the crew were exposed during Orbiter breakup were probably not sufficient to cause death or serious injury; and
the crew possibly, but not certainly, lost consciousness in the seconds following Orbiter breakup due to in-flight loss of crew module pressure.
The caused of the accident was done by the Rogers Commission Report. The official report says accident was caused by a failure in the O-rings sealing the aft field joint on the right solid rocket booster, causing pressurized hot gases and eventually flame to “blow by” the O-ring and contact the adjacent external tank, causing structural failure. The failure of the O-rings was attributed to a design flaw, as their performance could be too easily compromised by factors including the low temperature on the day of launch.
President George W Bush awarded all seven astronauts the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. It is the highest award any NASA member can receive. The US Space Shuttle Program had a total of 135 flights, with the lost of two space shuttles, Challenger and Columbia. The US Space Shuttle program last flight was July 8th 2011. Over all the program flew for more then 1330d 18h 9m 44s, with 21,158 orbits around our planet.
The Challenger Disaster took place on this day 33 years ago.