HISTORICAL NOTE: Remembering Challenger’s heroes

Photo: Challenger crew, NASA. The crew of Space Shuttle mission STS-51-L in their official portrait (back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik; front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.


Thirty years ago today, the US Space Shuttle Challenger exploded less than two minutes after liftoff, at the beginning of a planned 7-day mission. Five astronauts and two payload specialists died in the tragic space mission: Commander Francis R. Scobee; Pilot Michael J. Smith; Mission Specialists Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A. Resnik, and Ronald E. McNair; Payload Specialists Christa McAuliffe and Gregory B. Jarvis.

The mission was widely covered in the media because of McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space. After the tragedy, President Ronald Reagan ordered an investigation into the fatal mission. The presidential commission identified the direct cause of the accident (the O-rings failure due to extreme cold temperature affecting the joint in the right solid rocket booster) but also highlighted the flaws in NASA’s decision making process that approved the launch in spite of the extreme conditions.

President Reagan paid tribute to the Challenger Crew: “The future is not free: the story of all human progress is one of a struggle against all odds. We learned again that this America, which Abraham Lincoln called the last, best hope of man on Earth, was built on heroism and noble sacrifice. It was built by men and women like our seven star voyagers, who answered a call beyond duty, who gave more than was expected or required and who gave it little thought of worldly reward.”

[NBC News] Ellison Onizuka, First Asian-American Astronaut, Brought Hawaii to Space: “As a member of the Air Force, Onizuka was a flight test engineer and trained at the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, working on numerous experimental military aircraft. In 1978, he was selected to be an astronaut, part of the first new group of astronauts to be selected in nearly a decade.”
Learn more: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/ellison-onizuka-first-asian-american-astronaut-brought-hawaiian-spirit-space-n502101

[NASA] NASA – STS-51L Mission Profile: “The explosion 73 seconds after liftoff claimed crew and vehicle. The cause of explosion was determined to be an o-ring failure in the right solid rocket booster. Cold weather was determined to be a contributing factor.”
Learn more: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/shuttle/shuttlemissions/archives/sts-51L.html

[NASA] Report of the PRESIDENTIAL COMMISSION on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident: “The decision to launch the Challenger was flawed. Those who made that decision were unaware of the recent history of problems concerning the O-rings and the joint and were unaware of the initial written recommendation of the contractor advising against the launch at temperatures below 53 degrees Fahrenheit and the continuing opposition of the engineers at Thiokol after the management reversed its position. They did not have a clear understanding of Rockwell’s concern that it was not safe to launch because of ice on the pad. If the decisionmakers had known all of the facts, it is highly unlikely that they would have decided to launch 51-L on January 28, 1986.”
Learn more: http://history.nasa.gov/rogersrep/genindex.htm

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