Friday, January 28, 2011

25th Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

 Space Shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986

25 years ago on January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after its launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. Six astronauts and one civilian, five men and two women, died that day in a tragic accident that was caused by the failure of the booster engine. This was worst space disaster ever. Millions of people across America and abroad watched it live on television.

Those who perished were: Challenger's commander Francis Scobee, pilot Michael Smith, mission specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe, who was selected to be the first teacher in space.

The Space Shuttle Challenger crew

Challenger was named after two vessels: a British corvette HMS Challenger that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876, and the Apollo 17 lunar module Challenger, which landed on the Moon in 1972.

Following its first flight in April 1983, Space Shuttle Challenger quickly became the workhorse of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, flying far more missions per year than the Space Shuttle Columbia. Challenger flew on 85 percent of all Space Shuttle missions in 1983 and 1984. Even when the orbiters Discovery and Atlantis joined the fleet, Challenger remained in heavy use with three missions a year between 1983 and 1985. The fateful flight twenty five years ago was Challenger's twenty fifth flight.

According to Rogers Commission Report, the disaster was caused by the failure of the pressure seal in the aft field joint of the right Solid Rocket Booster, due to a faulty design that was unacceptably sensitive to several factors such as the effects of temperature, physical dimensions, the character of materials, the effects of re-usability, processing and the reaction of the joint to dynamic loading. The investigation also revealed that NASA was more concerned with schedules and public relations than with the safety of its program.

On the night of the Space Shuttle disaster, President Ronald Reagan went on national television to pay tribute to the courage and the bravery of those who perished in the disaster. In an address to the Nation Reagan said: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God."

President Reagan, who ordered an immediate inquiry into the disaster, also stressed that the space program would continue in honor to the dead astronauts.

Official ceremony to commemorate the 25th anniversary of this tragic accident took place on the January 28th, 2011 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Among the special guest was the widow of the Challenger's commander, June Scobee Rodgers, who was also the prime mover behind the Challenger Center for Space Science Education.