Challenger Disaster - THE FINAL MINUTES

THE FINAL MINUTES (Illustration) American History Famous Historical Events Famous People Aviation & Space Exploration STEM Ethics Disasters

Before Challenger’s last flight—known as Mission 51L—Dick Scobee (the mission commander) talks with Christa McAuliffe (America’s first teacher in space) about the instrumentation on board the shuttle’s flight deck. This event took place during pre-launch training. Image online, courtesy NASA.


Having breakfast together on the morning of the launch, the shuttle crew did not know about delayed liftoff discussions. When they walked to Challenger, carrying their attaché cases containing emergency breathing apparatus, they could not have anticipated what was about to happen.

Astronauts, and civilians who are permitted to fly in space, understand the risks. But they believe those risks are what remains after responsible officials do everything they can to insure a safe mission. Such was not the case for this crew, according to the government's investigative findings.

Christa McAuliffe—selected as the world's first teacher in space—had been through simulator training many times. She knew where she would sit. She knew what would happen before, during, and after liftoff. She knew her job as a payload specialist would come later, when she used her lesson plans to teach children throughout the country. Lesson plans that were found floating on the ocean by the Coast Guard.

Families of the crew were watching the launch. So were millions of others, since most television networks were live broadcasting. Children were glued to the screen, just like school children 25 years before who watched the launches of Alan Shepard and John Glenn.

No one realized Challenger was doomed before it left the launch pad. Most people had no idea there was a problem until they saw an unexpected pattern of smoke in the clear blue sky. (Follow the link to view NASA's movies of the crew, the liftoff and Challenger explosion.)

But the aft field joint of the right Solid Rocket Booster was already in failure mode within seconds of ignition. A gray smoke puff is clearly visible in the area of the joint at T+0.445 seconds.

Before STS 51-L left the launch pad (according to the government's investigative report), the grease, joint insulation and rubber O-rings in the joint seal were being burned and eroded by hot propellant gases. Gases that would be free to go elsewhere, and cause more damage, if the O-rings did not reseal sometime during the launch sequence.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5197stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 01, 1999

Updated Last Revision: Dec 15, 2017

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"THE FINAL MINUTES" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 01, 1999. May 26, 2020.
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