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The Challenger Explosion

Even some sixteen years later I still remember the day and what I was doing when I heard that the space shuttle Challenger had exploded. I was five years old in 1986, attending elementary school and being a normal five year old. On Tuesday January 28, 1986 I was home sick from school being babysat by my grandmother because my parents were at work. I knew that day was important because we had talked about the space launch in school and planned on watching it that day. The space launch was extra special this time because it was going to be the first time a civilian would go into space and this was no ordinary civilian it would be a high school teacher named Christa McAuliffe. Just like everyone else tuned into the television that morning I witnessed before my eyes the worst space disaster to date.

Dubbed the most memorable moment of the 80's the Challenger explosion was the 80's children most memorable event. There were several reasons that the explosion has had such an affect on my generation. The space launch was being broadcasted across United States live from Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Mahal). This launch was one of the most publicized launches due to the first civilian going into space and also that the launch had been delayed five times before (Mahal).

The launch took place on January 28, 1986 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Mahal). The skis about Kennedy Space Center were clear and the sun was out in the sky. However the day was very cold the temperature were only slightly above freezing. This launch was going to be the coldest that NASA had ever launched before. The time of lift off was 11:38 AM Eastern Standard Time this was when the 25th shuttle mission lifted off headed towards space.

The shuttle would never make it into space it exploded only seventy-three seconds after liftoff killing all seven members of its crew. The video footage of the explosion is the most haunting thing about the moment. It would be played over and over again throughout the day. The footage never seemed to get any less shocking you could watch it a hundred times and still be transfixed by a massage space shuttle blowing up into oblivion. The explosion was blamed on the O-rings, a set of gaskets that sealed the joints between the rocket booster sections failed due to being exposed to cold weather. When the O-Rings failed the twin booster rockets separated and few off, the shuttle cabin separated and fell ten miles into the ocean (Remember). The explosion would mark the end of shuttle flights until 1988, and NASA announced that civilians would no longer be allowed on shuttle flights. Civilians would eventually make it into space but not until the nineties. (Remember).

The diverse seven-member crew of the Challenger made it very media friendly because a civilian was going into space. The crewmembers were Commander Francis Scobee, Michael Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe. NASA wanted to try a new radical approach by trying to rekindle the excitement that once had surrounded the space program. NASA thought that if an ordinary American citizen were involved, they could communicate the excitement of space travel to the American public. President Ronald Reagan made the decision that the first ordinary American to travel into space would be "one of America's finest, a teacher." (McAuliffe). NASA and President Reagan thought that one of America's teachers would be the best candidate for the trip because teachers have the ability to communicate to people and get the interested and excited about almost anything.

NASA's media coordinator said "We're not looking for a Superman; we're looking for the person who can do the best job of describing his or her experiences on the shuttle to the most people on Earth." (McAuliffe). Christa McAuliffe was chosen out of 11, 500 applications because she was just an ordinary Social Studies teacher from Concord High School in Concord, New Hampshire (McAuliffe). In the application Christa stated that to her students she was a marvelous teacher who made their lessons come alive and that the trip into space would be the ultimate field trip.

Christa nor the rest of the Challenger crew would ever get to experience this "Ultimate field trip" because the crew and shuttle only made it seventy three seconds into launch. It was at the time that the shuttle would blow up and eventually fall eleven miles into the ocean killing everyone aboard the shuttle. What actually happened at launch? What mechanically caused the explosion?

The physical part that malfunctioned on Challenger would eventually be traced to a faulty O-Ring that leaked due to cold weather. The temperature at ground level was 36 degrees Faherninate fifteen degrees colder than any other previous shuttle launch by NASA (Mahal). Watching the videotape at around one second after ignition black smoke could be seen coming from the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB). The black smoke suggested that some type of grease that sealed the O-Rings was being burned (Mahal). The last puff of smoke was seen at 2.7 seconds. Of course no one saw this black smoke until after the explosion the faint traces of smoke could only been seen when viewed on slow motion examining only specific parts of the space shuttle.




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