Challenger Disaster

Published: 1986
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With a photo showing a space shuttle launch behind him, President Reagan addresses teachers competing to become the first private citizen in space in the East Room of the White House June 26, 1985. There are 14 semifinalists in the teacher in space program which the president established last August. The teacher chosen to go into space will fly aboard the space shuttle in 1986. Christa McAuliffe was the chosen teacher. The shuttle Challenger launched on January 28, 1986 at 11:38:00 a.m. EST. Seventy three seconds into the flight, the Challenger exploded and all aboard were killed. (UPI Photo/Vince Mannino/FILES)

Rob Navies: 1986 was to have been NASA's greatest year, 15 shuttle missions as well as its historic unmanned interplanetary and astronomical exploration. But the year began with a cloud hanging over NASA, its administrator under indictment for defrauding the government while an executive in the private sector and with Columbia requiring seven attempts to be launched and three attempts to land in the year's first shuttle flight. But the clouds lifted to reveal crystal cold skies on January 28th as seven astronauts boarded Challenger, including school teacher, Christa McAuliffe for a mission to once again galvanize the nation to manned space flight, what occurred instead burned horror into the psyche of the American people.

Speaker: Engine throttling up, three engine now at 104%.

Speaker: Challenger, go and throttle up.

Speaker: Challenger is going to throttle up.

Speaker: Flight Toronto.

Speaker: Go ahead.

Speaker: RSO (ph) reports the vehicle has exploded.

Speaker: Copy.

Speaker: We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded. Flight director confirms that we are looking at checking with the recovery forces to see what can be done at this point.

Speaker: I regret that I have to report that based on very preliminary searches of the ocean where the Challenger impacted this morning, these searches have not revealed any evidence that the crew of Challenger survived.

Rob Navies: It was the worst disaster in the history of manned space flight and plunged the nation into mourning. The shock soon turned to anger as the Presidential Commission assigned to investigate the catastrophe uncovered a decade of mismanagement in the development of the shuttle solid rocket boosters which ruptured during Challenger's climb to orbit destroying the spacecraft. Top NASA officials were unaware it was revealed of a stormy conference between the manufacturers of the boosters, Morton Thiokol, and NASA booster rocket engineers the night before the disaster.

Speaker: This was a meeting where the determination was to launch and it was up to us to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was not safe to do so.

Rob Navies: At the year's end, astronauts climbed back into a shuttle to practice countdowns, but so the agony of 1986 simply would not go away.

Speaker: I think it's going to be very difficult to look at an orbiter or look at the launchpad without having those kind of flashbacks; they were our friends, they were our companions, they were our very close friends and I don't think I am ever going to quite get over that completely.

Speaker: Lift-off of the 25th space shuttle mission and it has cleared the tower.

Ronald Reagan: Dick, Mike, Judy, El, Ron, Greg and Christa, your families and your country mourn your passing. We bid you goodbye, but we will never forget you.

Speaker: Challenger, go and throttle up.

Speaker: Challenger is going to throttle up.

Rob Navies: Rob Navies at the Kennedy Space Center.

Dennis Daily: 1986, the Year-end Review continues in a moment on the UPI Radio