Space Shuttle Challenger


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Today was the 30th anniversary of the STS 51L mission that ended in an explosion, death of the 7 crew and complete loss of the vehicle.

The cause of the disaster was an O seal in a solid rocket booster that failed to seat correctly due to the cold temperature.

The real cause of the disaster however, was a management structure so out of touch with reality that they believed the chances of a Shuttle failure to be impossible. So much so that when engineers at the company who made the boosters refused to sanction the flight due to the extreme cold weather at KSC the night before the launch, the lead engineer was told to 'take off his engineers hat and put on his managers hat'. The veto decision was changed to a go for launch.

On main engine ignition at a little after 11:30 am in Florida, the shuttle sprang forward crushing the O-seal in the lower field joint of the right booster. Due to the cold the seal failed to seat allowing hot gas to blow by and burn a hole in the side of the booster. Briefly, a small ammount of debris blocked the hole allowing the shuttle to lift off. As the shuttle accelerated again after throttling back to break the sound barrier, the vibration of flight shook the debris free allowing the burning gas to escape. The hot jet of gas burnt through the strut assembly that held the lower portion of the booster to the external tank. The nose of the booster swivelled and impacted with the top of the tank which ruptured spilling its contents of liquid oxygen. With the structure of the tank compromised the lower part of the tank broke up and the vehicle disintegrated. The orbiter broke into several parts with the crew module carrying on a balistic path until it curved back towards the ground. The range safety officer destroyed both boosters in a controlled explosion. Parts of the shuttle continued to fall for almost 30 minutes. When the crew module was recovered it was reported that 4 of the 7 emergency crew air packs had been activated and that this could only have been done manually. NASA insisted that all 7 members of the crew were either dead of unconcious at the point the crew module hit the sea. After the conclusion of the investigation the remains of Challenger were buried and sealed in a former Minuteman rocket silo in a remote part of KSC.


Dick Scobee
Mike Smith
Judith Resnik
Ellison Onizuka
Ronald McNair
Gregory Jarvis
Christa McAuliffe
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I was 11. The launch was covered live on John Craven's Newsround. The BBC reporter was a veteran from the Apollo era, I guy called Reg Turnbill.
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