TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) - Challenger flew nine successful missions before the tragic explosion in 1986. Space Shuttle Mission STS-51L was scheduled to carry some cargo, the Tracking Data Relay Satellite-2 , as well as fly the Shuttle-Pointed tool for Astronomy, SPARTAN-203.
The mission was scheduled to be the first flight of a new program called TISP, the Teacher In Space Project. Challenger was scheduled to carry Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher to fly in space.
From the beginning, STS-51L was plagued by problems. Liftoff was postponed several times due to bad weather and minor repairs. The Space Shuttle Challenger finally lifted off at 11:38:00 a.m. EST. January 28, 1986.
NASA Astronaut Jon McBride remembers that morning, "When it happened it was like I'm not believing this."
Seventy three seconds into the mission, Challenger exploded, killing the entire crew.
Challenger's disintegration after liftoff took the lives of McAuliffe and six fellow astronauts, who perished in front of their families, friends and millions watching on live television across the nation.
Immediately after, a special commission, appointed by President Ronald Reagan and led by former Secretary of State William Rogers, investigated the cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Neil Armstrong and former test pilot Chuck Yeager were also on the commission.
McBride said, "We know exactly what caused it. The Solid Rocket Boosters come in four segments and each joint segment is sealed with a rubber seal between the top and the bottom."
The commission's report cited the cause of the disaster as the failure of an "O-ring" seal in the solid-fuel rocket booster on the Space Shuttle Challenger's right side. The faulty design of the seal coupled with the unusually cold weather, let hot gases to leak through the joint.
The entire Space Shuttle Program was grounded during the Rogers Commission's investigation. Almost three years after the investigation, the program resumed, but not until engineers made several technical modifications and NASA implemented stricter regulations regarding quality control and safety.
Michael Ciannilli, the Challenger Exhibit Curator says, "We go through a tremendous amount of checks and balances for the vehicles safety before launch. There are thousands and thousands of components that have to work right."
NASA, on the advice of the Rogers Commission, made nearly 600 design and process changes to improve the safety of the program. One of the changes included new launch rules. Fueling of the external tank is not permitted if the average temperature is below 41 degrees during the 24 hours before a launch. No launch is allowed if the outside temperature is below 37 degrees with winds at or above 5.75mph or below 47 degrees with winds above 5.75mph.
NASA returned to space in 1988 with the Space Shuttle Discovery.