Almost 30 years ago a spaceship named Challenger took off into the great blue yonder. Quite a routine thing at the time with NASA’s new launch vehicle, the space shuttle.
This was the 25th space shuttle launch and by then it was thought that it was safe enough to send “normal” people into space.
The programming that culminated with this launch was set up in 1984. Two years before the events of Jan 28, 1986.
The program went by the great sounding name of the Teacher in Space project. A way of bringing up only a civilian into space but one that could tell the next generation of astronauts what it is like in space and what happens to “normal things”
The teacher, Christa McAuliffe was to teach two lessons from space. The teaching plan as well as footage from training is available on the web if you dig around enough. The lessons showed not only physics under microgravity but also other everyday things that do strange things when gravity is “missing”.
Her backup, Barbara Morgan, became a fully fledged astronaut in her own right and flew aboard the craft that replaced Challenger, Endeavour on STS-118 in 2007. Reports early on stated that Barbara was going to perform the lessons that were to be performed by Christa over 20 years previously. I, for one, had half expected this to happen.
Christa and her 6 crew mates were launched on an unexpectedly cold January day in Florida. One that nobody could have expected what was to happen 73 seconds after launch. The loss of the spacecraft and the men and women aboard it. Possibly even more shocking as it was broadcast live to many schools in America and children from her school was there at the launch.
I was 15 at the time and had been in love with space for many years by then. From Apollo via the ASTP and Skylab. I was expecting just another launch. That was shattered when I got home from school and was told what had happened. This was the days before global, 24 hour, news. The BBC, here in the UK, was showing what was happening by using the live footage from, quite a new channel,CNN.
The explosion. An image that has gone down in history will be ingrained onto everyone who saw it. Probably with more of a meaning than the generation(s) after that who has only seen it as a historical, not an event unfurling in front of your eyes. An image that shows both the bravely of mankind and its inadequacies – one of the most iconic images of the late twentieth century.
After this event a commission was set up to discover what went wrong. After an exhaustive investigation it was discovered that the rubber O-rings that kept the parts of the solid rocket boosters together failed at low temperatures. They were redesigned and a third was added to prevent this happening again.
Yesterday I put up a blog post about the loss of the Apollo 1 crew. Today is another sad day with the anniversary of Challenger and the crew of STS-51L. My heart goes out to their friends and family on such a hard week for them all.
The road to the stars is a rough one and sometimes it’s a very sad one to drive down.
JOSHUA THE COMPUTER: "Would you like to play a game?" from WARGAMES