The Challenger disaster 1986: Historic Photos of the National tragedy that Unfolded on Live Television

A fatal accident in the United States space program occurred on January 28, 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all seven crew members. There were five NASA astronauts, as well as two payload specialists.

O-ring seals used in the joint failed because they were not designed to handle the icy conditions experienced during this launch. The leak occurred because of a breach in the SRB joint that allowed pressurized burning gas from the solid rocket motor to reach the external fuel tank attachment hardware. Consequently, the aft field joint attachment of the right-hand SRB separated, resulting in structural failure of the external tank. As a result, the orbiter was destroyed by aerodynamic forces.

The Shuttle program was halted for 32 months following the disaster, and the Rogers Commission was formed to investigate the accident.

It is estimated that 17 percent of US viewers witnessed the launch live due to Christa McAuliffe’s presence, the first teacher in space. In addition, one study found that 85 percent of Americans had heard about the accident within an hour of it occurring.

#1 President Ronald Reagan and members of his senior staff watch a replay of the disaster. Feb. 3, 1986.

#2 The Challenger launches, moments before its destruction. Jan. 28, 1986.

#3 The crew of the Challenger.

The crew of the Challenger.

From left to right: Mission Specialist Ellison Onizuka, Pilot Michael Smith, Christa McAuliffe, Commander Francis “Dick” Scobee, Payload Specialist Gregory Jarvis, Mission Specialist Judith Resnik, and Mission Specialist Ronald McNair.

#4 The Space Shuttle Challenger arrives at Kennedy Space Center aboard a Boeing 747. July 5, 1982.

#5 The space shuttle Challenger rolls toward the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center before its first flight on April 4, 1983. Nov. 30, 1982.

#6 Christa McAuliffe watches a successful launch of the space shuttle Challenger after being selected to join a later mission. Oct. 30, 1985.

#7 Christa McAuliffe experiences weightlessness for the first time aboard a NASA aircraft which flies in parabolic arcs to approximate zero gravity. January 1986.

#8 Christa McAuliffe gives a thumbs-up as she prepares for a test flight at Kennedy Space Center. Jan. 24, 1986.

#9 The crew of the Challenger leave their quarters on their way to the launch pad. Jan. 27, 1986.

#10 Ice coats the launch facility on the morning of the launch.

#11 The Challenger lifts off, approximately one minute before its catastrophic explosion.

#12 Classmates of Christa McAuliffe’s son cheer as the Challenger launches skyward.

#13 The Challenger explodes 73 seconds into flight, nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean.

#14 The two solid rocket boosters careen on for another 37 seconds before being remotely deactivated.

#15 Spectators react after the explosion of the Challenger

#16 Christa McAuliffe’s sister Betsy and parents Ed and Grace Corrigan react in anguish to the explosion of the shuttle.

#17 Concord High School student Carina Dolcino stands in stunned silence after watching the live broadcast of the launch at a school assembly.

#18 Billy Gifford rubs his eyes while holding his grandson Jimmy Stillman, 8, during a memorial service for Christa McAuliffe at a church in Concord, New Hampshire. Jan. 29, 1986.

#19 A flag flies at half-mast at Kennedy Space Center after the explosion.

#20 Children attend a memorial service for Christa McAuliffe at a church in Concord, New Hampshire.

#21 A child cries during a memorial service for Christa McAuliffe at a church in Concord, New Hampshire.

#22 The front starboard section of the shuttle is recovered from the ocean.

#23 Coast Guardsmen prepare to hoist the fulcrum of a solid rocket booster out of the ocean during Challenger salvage operations. Jan. 31, 1986.

#24 A cross and wreath stand on the beach as a Coast Guard cutter heads out to search for debris from the explosion. February 1986.

#25 Lisa Mitten wipes tears from her eyes as her daughter Jessica reads some of the letters of sympathy from around the country on display at Concord High School.

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Written by Aung Budhh

Husband + Father + librarian + Poet + Traveler + Proud Buddhist. I love you with the breath, the smiles and the tears of all my life.

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