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27 Years Ago Today – the Challenger Explosion

Explosion of the Challenger

Explosion of the Challenger

On January 28, 1986, 11:38 am EST, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. All seven crew members were killed in the tragedy. This was the first shuttle to be completely destroyed in an accident. The Challenger launch had been promoted and touted by NASA, especially with its inclusion of Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.

After the disaster, space flight was put on a 32 month hiatus while NASA officials and the government investigated the cause of the explosion. The Rogers Commission (a special committee formulated to investigate the disaster) and the House investigations determined that the explosion was caused due to the failure of an o-ring seal during launch. The House made the determination that:

…the Committee feels that the underlying problem which led to the Challenger accident was not poor communication or underlying procedures as implied by the Rogers Commission conclusion. Rather, the fundamental problem was poor technical decision-making over a period of several years by top NASA and contractor personnel, who failed to act decisively to solve the increasingly serious anomalies in the Solid Rocket Booster joints.

The Challenger explosion was the worst disaster in NASA’s history until the Columbia was destroyed on re-entry in 2003.