Friday, January 28, 2011

The Challenger

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the deaths of seven NASA astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger when it disintegrated in a massive fireball just 73 seconds into its flight. I was in the second grade at E.C. Brice Elementary School, Mrs. Lumpkin's class, at the time. Because they were sending a teacher into space, our class had done a special project surrounding the shuttle. We had all written letters to Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who was joining the mission, and the morning of the launch we had wheeled a TV into our classroom to watch. I've never forgotten that. It was scary and confusing because we didn't really understand that the explosion wasn't part of the launch at first, and then it was just over and there was so much sadness and shock from everyone on TV. I found the following timeline of milestones associated with Challenger and the space shuttle program on a Yahoo news article this morning, so I wanted to copy and paste it here, mostly for my own personal keepsake. But you can enjoy it as well:

July 26, 1972: NASA awards the contract to build STA-099, a test vehicle for the space shuttle program. The effort takes nearly six years and on Feb.10, 1978, the construction is completed. This vehicle would eventually become the space shuttle Challenger.

Jan. 29, 1979: Rockwell receives a NASA contract to convert what would become known as the space shuttle Challenger from its original purpose as a Structural Test Article (STA-099) into a fully functional space-faring shuttle (OV-099). NASA reports the conversion involved a major disassembly of the original Challenger that had only a simulated crew cabin prior to the changes.

April 12-14, 1981: The first space shuttle mission lasts for two days, six hours, 20 minutes and 53 seconds. The space shuttle Columbia was the first to fly a full mission. STS 1 launched from launch pad 39A at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida. The Columbia landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

July 5, 1982: Challenger, with modifications complete is delivered to the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final testing including a flight readiness firing, after which it will be ready to begin full orbital missions. The name Challenger, says NASA, was taken from the name of a British research vessel that made significant scientific advances during the 1870s.

April 4, 1983: The Challenger launches on its first full mission, STS 6. At the time, it is the second space shuttle to be completed, joining the Columbia, which had already flown five missions. The five-day, two-hour mission carries the Challenger over a distance of more than two million miles and reaches a height of 178 nautical miles according to NASA mission records. Commander Paul Weitz, pilot Karol Bobko, mission specialist Donald Peterson and mission specialist F. Story Musgrave become the first crew of the new shuttle. During STS 6, Musgrave and Peterson became the first astronaut to conduct a spacewalk from any space shuttle.

June 18, 1983: Challenger's second mission, STS 7, carries Sally Ride aloft as she becomes the first American woman in space. Also on board STS 7 for the six-day, two-hour mission is a colony of ants in an experiment to study their social behavior in the absence of gravity.

Feb. 11, 1984: After a successful seven-day, 23-hour mission, STS 41-B, that saw mission specialists Robert Stewart and Bruce McCandless II perform the first untethered spacewalk, Challenger becomes the first space shuttle to land at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Jan. 22, 1986: The first of several delays in the scheduled launch of the space shuttle Challenger's 10th and final mission occurs. Additional delays over the next few days would be caused by severe weather forecasts, and some minor maintenance issues unrelated to the Challenger's disastrous failure on Jan. 28.

Jan. 28, 1986: With seven crew members, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, the space shuttle Challenger launches for the last time. The first sign of trouble, a puff of dark smoke is seen at just .678 seconds after lift-off. At 73 seconds into the flight, as a result of a failed o-ring on the right solid rocket booster, NASA says, "there was massive, almost explosive, burning of the hydrogen streaming from the failed tank bottom and liquid oxygen breach in the area of the Intertank." The fireball completely covered the space shuttle, which, then, under incredible physical stresses, broke apart into several sections, killing the seven astronauts aboard the Challenger's mission STS 51-L.

President Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office after a televised address to the nation about the Challenger explosion on Jan. 28, 1986. He said: 'The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God.'

Jan. 28, 2004: On the 18th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, NASA announces the spot where the Mars Rover Opportunity first landed on Mars just three days earlier will be forever known as the Challenger Memorial Station in honor of the crew who lost their lives when the space shuttle Challenger broke apart in flight.

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