January 28, 1986: The Challenger Disaster

Space Shuttle Challenger lifts off Pad 30B, with a crew of seven Astronauts (Florida Memory).

Today marks the 33rd anniversary of the Challenger Disaster. NASA shuttle orbiter mission STS-51-L marked the tenth flight of Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-99). The shuttle carried five NASA astronauts and two payload specialists, including Francis R. Scobee (Commander), Michael J. Smith (Pilot), Ronald McNair (Mission Specialist), Ellison Onizuka (Mission Specialist), Judith Resnik (Mission Specialist), Gregory Jarvis (Payload Specialist), and Christa McAuliffe (Payload Specialist, Teacher).

STS-51-L crew: (front row) Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair; (back row) Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik.

Excitement surrounding Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first teacher in space, prompted about 17% of Americans to watch the launch live. Reportedly 85% of Americans had heard the news within one hour of the disaster.

Photo of the Challenger accident taken by a 70mm tracking camera at UCS 15 south of Pad 39-B, at 11:39:17.361 EST (Florida Memory).

Following the failure of O-ring seals that were used in the right side solid rocket booster (SRB), the SRB improperly separated, leading to structural failure and disintegration of shuttle and orbiter from aerodynamic forces. Catastrophic failure occurred seventy-three seconds after launch.

As a permanent memorial to the crew of the Challenger, their families established the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. “Challenger Center and its global network of Challenger Learning Centers use space-themed simulated learning and role-playing strategies to help students bring their classroom studies to life and cultivate skills needed for future success, such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication and teamwork.”

Forty-Three Challenger Learning Centers have been established in four countries. Locations in Florida include downtown Tallahassee and Kirby Smith Middle School in Jacksonville.

Challenger Learning Center in Downtown Tallahassee.