Lessons Learned from Challenger: Birth of the Space Shuttle Program

Lessons Learned from Challenger: Birth of the Space Shuttle Program
Posted at 10:00 AM, Jan 28, 2016
and last updated 2017-05-30 09:52:11-04

TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) - Just three years after this historic moment: "One small step for man.. one giant leap for mankind..." NASA was ready for another step. This one toward an entirely new space program - not about how far we could go, but how long we could stay there.

The Space Transportation System, otherwise known as the Space Shuttle Program, launched in 1972, but it was nearly a decade before the program lifted off.

Space Shuttle Columbia was first up in 1981, and it was nothing like what NASA had used before.

The shuttle looked more like a plane. For the first time ever, it could actually land back on Earth instead of just dropping into the ocean, meaning it could make another flight.

But there were limitations. The shuttles couldn't leave the Earth's orbit.

While those space laps were important, public interest had started to fade, so NASA had a new idea. With 24 successful shuttle missions under their belts, maybe it was time a civilian joined their ranks.

With that, the Teacher in Space program was underway.

"The mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger was to excite and engage students in science, technology, engineering and math," said Emily Brown with the Tallahassee Challenger Learning Center.

In the 1980s, more than 11,000 teachers applied to take a ride to space.

Ten finalists were chosen to go through testing at NASA, and in the end, Boston native Christa McAuliffe was named to the Challenger crew.

"I've made nine wonderful friends over the last two weeks and when that shuttle goes, there might be one body, but there's going to be 10 souls that I'm taking with me," McAulife said after being chosen.

McAuliffe spent the next year training with her six crew members on what was set to be Challenger's 10th mission.

While in orbit, McAuliffe would give two lessons live from the shuttle and do experiments that teachers back on Earth could use in their classrooms.

"I don't think any teacher has been more ready to have two lessons in my life," McAullife said leading up to the launch.

The primary mission of the Challenger crew in January 1986 was to focus on deploying a satellite and monitoring Halley's comet.

Challenger was originally scheduled to launch on January 22, but because of weather and mechanical issues it was delayed six times before getting the go-ahead on January 28.

On that date, the seven brave souls of the Challenger crew boarded the shuttle set to make history, but unfortunately it would quickly turn tragic.

The morning of the launch temperatures dropped to around 28 degrees. That's 25 degrees lower than the previous coldest launch.

While crews said the shuttle was good for an 11:38 a.m. take-off, many still question if the launch should have been postponed a seventh time.