Photo of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
25 years later we still remember the tragedy of the Space Shuttle Challenger. CC by Unknown/Wikimedia Commons

On Jan. 28, 1986, a mission with special significance for the space shuttle Challenger ended in disaster. NASA managed to send humans into space for 25 years before astronauts were killed during a mission. In addition to the Challenger disaster, NASA has had two other catastrophic failures that  resulted in astronaut deaths that are being remembered in the course of a week.

A moment that will never be forgotten

Many people were upset with the Challenger disaster. To add to the tragedy, 37-year-old Christa McAuliffe, who was a high school teacher, was on board when it happened. McAuliffe was selected from 11,000 other teachers to go along for the ride through a NASA public relations effort called the “Teachers in Space Program.” When Challenger’s external fuel tank exploded and the space shuttle broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, McAuliffe and six astronauts were killed. Most in America remember the Challenger disaster as an event frozen in time. It is similar to Nov. 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Memories were burned into people’s brains that day, and most remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.

How the Challenger disaster unfolded

A misconception about the Challenger disaster is that the space shuttle exploded. The only reason people think the Challenger exploded is due to the media. The external fuel tank on the Challenger collapsed, and 1.5 million gallons of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen created a fireball effect. The space shuttle continued to go up even though the shuttle’s rocket boosters blew off in both directions. Aerodynamic forces ripped it to shreds. The crew cabin hit the Atlantic Ocean at 200 miles per hour. More than likely, the astronauts were still alive before the impact of the ocean.

Other disasters in space

The 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster is being commemorated one day after the Apollo 1 disaster 44 years ago on Jan. 27, 1967. The first planned mission of the Apollo program to the moon ended in tragedy a month before its scheduled launch. During a mission test, there was a fire in the space capsule killing Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Edward H. White and Roger B. Chaffee. Then, seven astronauts died on February 1, 2003, on the space shuttle Columbia. When coming back into orbit, the heat resistant tiles failed, and it streaked over Texas in disintegration.

Information from

National Geographic:



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