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Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Thirty four years ago today, January 28, 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle "Challenger" broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members: five NASA astronauts, one payload specialist, and a civilian school teacher. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:39 a.m. EST. The disintegration of the vehicle began after a joint in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The failure was caused by the failure of O-ring seals used in the joint that were not designed to handle the unusually cold conditions that existed at this launch. Here is the CNN live broadcast of the Challenger Space Shuttle as it exploded in real time:

Here is a clip from NBC Nightly News on that evening:

The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were eventually recovered from the ocean floor after a lengthy search and recovery operation. The exact timing of the death of the crew is unknown; several crew members are known to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. The shuttle had no escape system, and the impact of the crew compartment at terminal velocity with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.

Here is President Reagan's moving address to the nation that evening:

Approximately 17 percent of the American population witnessed the launch on live television broadcast because of the presence of high school teacher Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space. Media coverage of the accident was extensive; one study reported that 85 percent of Americans surveyed had heard the news within an hour of the accident. The Challenger disaster has been used as a case study in many discussions of engineering safety and workplace ethics.

The crew members of the Space Shuttle Challenger:

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