At 11:38 a.m. EST on January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger takes off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Christa McAuliffe is poised to become the first ordinary American civilian to travel in space. McAuliffe, a 37-year-old New Hampshire high school social science teacher, won a competition that earned him a spot among the seven crew members of the Challenger. She went through months of shuttle training but, from January 23, she was forced to wait six long days while the ChallengerThe launch countdown has been repeatedly delayed due to weather and technical issues. Finally, on January 28, the shuttle took off.
Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds of people on the ground, including Christa’s family, watched in disbelief as the shuttle crashed into a plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the heartbreaking tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.
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In 1976, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled the world’s first reusable manned spacecraft, the Company. Five years later, shuttle space flights began when Columbia traveled to space on a 54 hour mission. Launched by two solid rocket boosters and an external tank, only the airplane-type shuttle entered orbit around Earth. Upon completion of the mission, the shuttle fired engines to reduce its speed and, after passing through the atmosphere, landed as a glider. The first shuttles transported satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. the Challenger The disaster was the first major shuttle accident.
In the aftermath of the disaster, President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission to determine what was wrong with Challenger and develop future corrective measures. The presidential commission was chaired by former Secretary of State William Rogers and included former astronaut Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager. The investigation determined that the disaster was caused by a ruptured O-ring in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected due to the cold temperature at the time of launch, which triggered a chain of events that resulted in massive loss. As a result, NASA did not send astronauts into space for more than two years, as it redesigned a number of features of the Space Shuttle.
READ MORE: Reagan delayed State of the Union from 1986 to mourn the Challenger disaster
In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launch of the Discovery. Since then, the Space Shuttle has carried out many important missions, such as repairing and maintaining the Hubble Space Telescope and building the International Space Station.
On February 1, 2003, a second space shuttle disaster rocked the United States when Columbia disintegrated when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. All on board were killed. Despite the fears that the problems that befall Columbia was not handled satisfactorily, space shuttle flights resumed on July 26, 2005, when Discovery was again put into orbit.
The space shuttle program officially ended on August 31, 2011 after its last mission, STS-135 piloted by Atlantis, in July 2011.