Friday, January 28, 2011

A Fateful Day

NASA recalls darkest moments

The space shuttle Challenger STS-51L spaceflight ended in tragedy on Jan. 28, 1986, 73 seconds after liftoff. Seven astronauts died that day, when the Challenger space shuttle was destroyed.

It was NASA's first in-flight calamity, and it dealt an especially severe blow to the millions of teachers and students watching on TV to see Christa McAuliffe, a civilian high school teacher from New Hampshire, become NASA's first Teacher in Space.

Today is the 25 year anniversary of that fateful day.

The loss of Challenger was later attributed to a failed seal on one of the space shuttle's solid rocket boosters. An investigation board concluded that cold weather prevented a rubber O-ring from maintaining its seal, allowing hot gas to leak and damage the shuttle's external fuel tank and the hardware attaching the booster to the vehicle. The right solid rocket booster separated from the shuttle, and the fuel tank broke apart, causing the orbiter to be torn apart by aerodynamic stresses.

"The problem was a design flaw, complicated by the weather situation which was unrecognized at the time by the appropriate managers," Hale said. "We wished that we had the foresight to stand up collectively and say, 'Look, it's too cold a day to launch, we just ought to wait for a warmer day.' In retrospect it seems so simple; at the time, it just didn't happen."

Veteran shuttle astronaut Ron Garan, who is slated to fly to the International Space Station in March aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, said the anniversaries of Challenger and the other accidents highlight the lessons learned from those events. "It's a time to reflect and it's a time to remember those people who have sacrificed to get us where we are," Garan told "A lot of the lessons learned in this business are written in blood, and if we don't learn from them, those people died in vain."


So where were you on that day? Were you watching from a classroom like many students?

Kaye Manro
(crossed posted from my blog)


  1. Man, I can't believe how long ago that was! I was elementary and dreaming of space camp and becoming an astronaut when I grew up.

    The whole school was set up in the auditorium. I can still remember the gasp from everyone at the same time. It was so loud and echoed in the room. And then all the commotion as the kids started getting upset and the teachers were scrambling to shut everything down and calm the kids at the same time.

    That was the first national tragedy I saw and it has stuck with me.

  2. That was one of the worst days of my life. I was home sick from school. My mother called me in tears. To this day, it still affects me. Each shuttle loss has cut, but this one was distinctly the worst wound.

  3. I'm so old, I also remember the fire on Apollo One. Tough times when brave people die. I honor them for being willing to take grave risks to do amazing things. We've had so few really bad accidents with our space program, that we forget it really is dangerous every time there is a launch. There is no cake walk into space. Have you seen FROM EARTH TO THE MOON? That is a great history of the space program. The episode about the fire is particularly powerful, IMHO.

  4. I remember this like it was yesterday. So horrifying. I cried for hours.

  5. I was already in Hell. But not from this tragedy but another, for I had just attended the funeral of a murdered child. I had just emerged from the church when I heard the news about the shuttle, and I found that I couldn't feel any more pain; the whole event was a blank for me. I still don't know how I got through that day, but every time I see pictures of the Challenger tragedy it all comes flooding back...

  6. I also remember it like yesterday. A co-worker told me "The shuttle exploded!" I thought she was joking. I couldn't process it. We'd never had an in-flight failure in our space program that had resulted in a death, much less the loss of seven astronauts. It was unthinkable.

    We watched television nearly every waking hour for the next several days as updates came in. To this day when I see some of those images, tears come to my eyes.

    Challenger was a wake up call to the American people that space exploration is not routine--it is dangerous, difficult and daring.

    Now we're standing at the curtain call of the shuttle program and I have to wonder how we can possibly let all we've gained and sacrificed slip away into history.

  7. I was three. I don't recall remembering anything but my mother crying and her talking about the explosion in later years.

    I had books all about NASA, even then.

  8. I'll never forget that day. I was a stay-at-home mom with two young sons, and had the tv on to watch the launch. I think that may have been the last times--in my memory--a launch was shown live on tv.

    I remember the initial confusion, then the despair as everyone realized the shuttle had exploded, killing all aboard.

    A terrible day.

  9. Thanks to all who commented on this post. Things this terrible do tend to stay with us a long time.


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