January 24, 2011


25 Years Ago in News History: The Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster

On Jan. 28, 1986, after several delays, the space shuttle Challenger was launched for the 25th mission in NASA’s space shuttle program.

Challenger took off in unusually cold weather from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Seven crew members were on board, including Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire high school teacher who was set to make history as the first teacher in space.

McAuliffe’s presence generated media and public interest in the launch. By 1986, shuttle launches had become so routine that the broadcast networks no longer carried them live. Only CNN — six years old at the time — provided live television coverage.

Seventy-three seconds after liftoff, Challenger disintegrated. The entire crew was killed. The disaster gained immediate worldwide attention and prompted a lengthy investigation of the space program. NASA was back on Page One.

The accident was traced to faulty O-ring seals in the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster. NASA shut down the shuttle program for nearly three years while shuttle components were redesigned and better safety regulations were instituted.

On Sept. 29, 1988, Discovery was successfully launched, the first shuttle flight since Challenger.

In a 1999 USA Weekend/Newseum survey of the top 100 news stories of the 20th century, the Challenger disaster was ranked 43 by the public.

The story of Challenger can be found in the News Corporation News History Gallery and the Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery.

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