Written by Lahiru Fernando
29 Jan, 2016 | 8:05 am
Thirty years ago, January 28 1986 is the day the world witnessed one of the biggest tragedies in space programme history and NASA’s first in-flight tragedy.
The Space Shuttle Challenger launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida on the 28th of January 1986. Shortly after liftoff, the space shuttle’s external fuel tank collapsed, causing what looked like an explosion, braking the shuttle apart and crashing into the Atlantic Ocean from approximately 46,000 feet. The tragic accident claimed the lives of seven crew members aboard.
Christa McAuliffe, a high-school teacher from New Hampshire, was one of the seven; she was set to be the first civilian and teacher in space. NASA had arranged a satellite broadcast of the full mission for students to watch the historic moment in schools across the nation.
That night, President Ronald Reagan addressed the country, speaking directly to the nation’s children: “I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery.”
It was later determined that cold weather, combined with a design flaw, led to the accident. A seal on one of the solid rocket boosters was not working properly. The disaster grounded NASA’s space shuttle program for nearly three years.
Since that tragic day in 1986, NASA has landed multiple rovers on Mars and discovered flowing water on the Red Planet. It’s completed the International Space Station, where astronauts have lived for 15 years. It’s sent New Horizons to Pluto to take photos of the dwarf planet.
To honour the crew, their families and friends came together to establish the Challenger Center. The mission was much like the Challenger’s: to spread STEM education. Today, more than 40 education centers around the country help millions of kids learn about science and space; there they are encouraged to reach for the stars.
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