History

In Remembrance: 30-Year Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

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On this fateful day in 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger (STS-51-L) exploded 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members, which included five NASA astronauts and two Payload Specialists. We at Texas Hill Country honor and pay tribute to those heroes who gave their lives to pioneer space exploration.

In Remembrance: 30-Year Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Photo: Kennedy Space Center Photo Archive, Kennedy Space CenterFlorida – Space Shuttle Challenger launches from launch pad 39B at the start of STS-51-L.

The Challenger disaster was NASA’s first in-flight tragedy. The space shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the morning of January 28, 1986. Shortly after lift-off, the space shuttle’s external fuel tank collapsed, causing what looked like an explosion, and the shuttle broke apart and fell approximately 46,000 feet to the Atlantic Ocean. The tragedy unfolded on live TV — and the audience watching was particularly young.

In Remembrance: 30-Year Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

Photo: NASA Human Space Flight Gallery, Crew members: (front row) Michael J. SmithDick ScobeeRonald McNair; (back row) Ellison OnizukaChrista McAuliffeGregory JarvisJudith Resnik.

Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher from New Hampshire, was one of the seven killed; she was set to be the first civilian and teacher in space. NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the full mission for students to watch the historic moment in schools across the nation. Approximately 17% of Americans witnessed the launch live because of the presence of Payload Specialist McAuliffe. Media coverage of the accident was extensive: one study reported that 85% of Americans surveyed had heard the news within an hour of the accident.

In Remembrance: 30-Year Anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster
Photo: NASA, Destruction of the Space Shuttle Challenger. At about 76 seconds, fragments of the Orbiter can be seen tumbling against a background of fire, smoke and vaporized propellants from the External Tank. The left Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) flies rampant, still thrusting. The reddish-brown cloud envelops the disintegrating Orbiter. The color is indicative of the nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer propellant in the Orbiter Reaction Control System.

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