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| | Human World | Space on Jan 28, 2014

This date in science: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster

Because shuttle launches had become routine after 24 successful missions, those watching found the explosion difficult to believe until NASA confirmed the accident.

January 28, 1986. On today’s date, the Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L) exploded and broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. The explosion led to the deaths of all seven Challenger crew members. The spacecraft disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida at 11:38 EST (16:38 UTC).

Crew of Space Shuttle Challenger (mission STS-51-L)

Front row, from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair

Back Row – Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik

The O-ring failure caused a breach in the SRB joint it sealed, allowing pressurized hot gas from within the solid rocket motor to reach the outside and impinge upon the adjacent SRB attachment hardware and external fuel tank. This led to the separation of the right-hand SRBs aft attachment and the structural failure of the external tank. Aerodynamic forces promptly broke up the orbiter.

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger and her seven-member crew were lost when a ruptured O-ring in the right Solid Rocket Booster caused an explosion soon after launch. This photograph, taken a few seconds after the accident, shows the Space Shuttle Main Engines and Solid Rocket Booster exhaust plumes entwined around a ball of gas from the External Tank. Because shuttle launches had become almost routine after 24 successful missions, those watching the shuttle launch in person and on television found the sight of the explosion especially shocking and difficult to believe until NASA confirmed the accident. Image and caption via Wikimedia Commons.

Bottom line: Posted in honor of the crew of Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded and broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, after an O-ring seal in its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed at liftoff. R.I.P Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis and Judith Resnik.