Challenger



It was a cold, crisp, and damp morning on the Florida Space Coast as the space shuttle Challenger raced through the sky at speeds approaching mach 2 at an altitude of 104,000 feet when something went perilously wrong. All of America watched, including the family members of the seven doomed crew members, as Challenger exploded into an expansive ball of fire, smoke and steam. An "Oh. . . no!" came as the crew?s final utterance from the shuttle as the orbiter broke-up. As the reality of what she was seeing became apparent, Pilot Michael John Smith?s daughter, 9 year old Erin Smith, could be heard yelling, "Daddy! Daddy! I want you, Daddy! You promised nothing would happen!" Unfortunately, the events of that tragic day could have been easily prevented. Weather had been the main cause for five delays during the last month. The launch had been carried out in spite on the fact that weather was the worst it had ever been in NASA?s history of manned space flight. With so many !

delays encountered in that twenty-fifth shuttle mission, NASA had become careless in getting Challenger on its way. As Challenger sat on the pad awaiting it?s ill-fated mission, there were signs that there was something wrong with the Right hand SRB (Solid Rocket Booster). Nevertheless these signs were ignored by a neglectful staff whose only concern was scheduling and not safety. Also, at the time of the accident, for purely monetary reasons, the shuttle had not been fitted with a means of escape for the crew in the case of an emergency; a fact not revealed until after the accident. Though the Space shuttle was the cutting edge of technology at the time, new advancements in technology make the Space Shuttle old, unsafe, inefficient, and not cost effective. However, because of cut backs in funding, NASA is unable to make any advancements in it?s technology to prevent another catastrophic accident for the space program. Also as a result of the cut backs, NASA has had tro!

uble keeping the existing space shuttles? hardware kept up. The effects of the accident were numerous; the space program was shut down for three years. Also the effects on the NASA staff were immense, leaving a feeling of guilt and fear. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger and it?s crew embarked on a mission to broaden educational horizons and promote the advancement of scientific knowledge; their mission was cut short in one of the most tragic and most easily prevented tragedies in America?s history in space.

Before the accident, the 51-L (This mission?s assigned number) mission was supposed to be remembered for many reasons. One reason was that this was to be the twenty-fifth space shuttle mission. Another reason was that this was to be the first shuttle launch from pad 39-b which hadn?t been used since the Apollo missions. However, The major reason was this was to be the first crew to include a civilian member. Sharon Chista McAuliffe was chosen from a pool of 11,400 applicants. McAuliffe, 37, was a social studies teacher in Concord High School in New Hampshire. While in space, she planned to still teach two lessons entitled, "Where we?ve been, where we?re going, why?", to her class. Then, at T plus 1:13, the mission and its crew became remembered for other, more disastrous reasons. An O-ring in the right SRB shattered in the extreme cold and began allowing liquid hydrogen to leak then explode incinerating the seven crew members, destroying the valuable payload, and bring!

ing the space program to a halt for nearly three years. America listened a long ten seconds before "?the commentary was resumed in a tense monotone"(Lewis, p21);

" Flight Controllers are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction. We have no downlink. We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded. The flight director confirms that. We are looking at checking with recovery forces to see what can be done at this point. Contingency procedures are in effect. We will report more as we have information available?"(Lewis, p21)

"Major Malfunction", a phrase that stuck with everyone watching the launch that day. Although later, flight commentator Nesbit would be commended for remaining calm by some people, many people described the statement as "the understatement of the century".

Following all the delays caused by the weather over the past five days, the