34 years ago today, space shuttle Challenger launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida and flew gloriously for 72 seconds…. At 73 seconds after takeoff, it exploded in the sky, in front of spectators at the Cape and around the country, live on television. All 7 members were killed, including high school teacher, Christa McAuliffe, who was on the flight.
Because of the interest of a teacher being on the flight, MANY schools around the country were connected to closed circuit television and NASA TV for the launch. Many school-aged children from Kindergarten through high school saw the explosion live, as it happened. I was in 8th grade, walking up the three flights of steps on the south side of DeWitt Jr. High. At the top of those steps were 2 science classrooms. Mr.Oppelt’s room was closest and had a TV on and was showing the launch. As I reached the top of the stairs,I heard a collective gasp come from his room, accompanied by many voices exclaiming, “OH NO!” and “WHAT JUST HAPPENED?” and a few teenage screams… I raced into the room to see what had occurred and saw the large plume of smoke and the booster rockets flying off in different directions as debris fell from the sky. My first thoughts were of the crew’s family and how that they, most likely, had witnessed the last moments of their loved ones lives. That broke my heart and I’m positive, the rest of my school day was worthless.
Only years later, after all of the investigations into the cause of the explosion, did we learn 2 main things:
- Rubber O rings that were not tested or not believed to be viable at such cold temperatures were the main cause of the fuel leak that cause the initial damage to the fuel rocket
- The shuttle’s crew cabin was mainly intact, as it fell from the sky at terminal velocity with most, if not all of the crew, alive during it’s decent.
Overall, the flight should have been postponed again (as it had been a few times leading up to January 28th) dude to the ice that had gathered upon the launch pad and many other parts of the vehicle and due to those extreme temps that morning. The cold, alone, should have been cause to postpone or scrap that day’s launch. Had it taken place on a day where temps were above freezing, these astronauts would most likely have gone up, done amazing work in space, and returned safely back to solid ground to live out their lives with their families.
- Michael J. Smith
- Dick Scobee
- Ronald McNair
- Ellison Onizuka
- Christa McAuliffe
- Gregory Jarvis
- Judith Resnik