News / USA

Space Shuttle Challenger Loss Still Felt, 25 Years Later

The space shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This picture shows the main engine exhaust, solid rocket booster plume and an expanding ball of gas from the external tank, visible seconds
The space shuttle Challenger explodes 73 seconds after takeoff on Jan. 28, 1986, at Kennedy Space Center, Florida. This picture shows the main engine exhaust, solid rocket booster plume and an expanding ball of gas from the external tank, visible seconds

Each January, the U.S. space agency NASA holds a Day of Remembrance to honor those who have lost their lives in the pursuit of space exploration. It also marks 25 years since the loss of the space shuttle Challenger, which stunned the nation and changed America's space program.

Challenger blasted off into clear blue skies on January 28, 1986.  And then, 73 seconds later, the unthinkable.

VOA's Greg Flakus was there.  He says the liftoff looked flawless. "And then I saw the split there where the two rockets kind of veered off with a lot of smoke and we saw debris falling, and I'd never seen that before.  I'd watched several launches, but I'd never seen it, and I thought, 'Well, maybe because it's such a clear day, I'm seeing this in a little different way than I normally would have.'  But then we heard the NASA announcer, one of the public affairs officers, say, 'Obviously, a major malfunction' and those words had a big impact.  It hit you right in the gut," he said.

The loss of the seven-member crew left Americans and their president in grief. "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God,'" President Reagan said.

Among the astronauts was an ordinary citizen, Christa McAuliffe, picked to be the first school teacher in space.  School children across the country watched the disaster unfold.


Valerie Neal is curator of the human spaceflight collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.  She says that by the mid-1980s, the public thought launches were ordinary. "The shuttle had flown 24 times without any major, show-stopping events.  It had begun to seem routine.  People weren't paying much attention anymore.  Spaceflight is always experimental.  It is always high risk," she said.

Immediately after Challenger, NASA established a new safety office and took other steps, as well. "The first and most important one, I think, was the redesign of the solid rocket booster joints, so that that particular technical cause of the tragedy could not happen again," she said.

Challenger was not NASA's first tragedy, nor the last.

On January 27, 1967, the three astronauts of the Apollo 1 mission died in a flash fire on the launch pad.

On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated minutes before landing, killing the seven astronauts on board.

Given all the tragic losses, Neal says she is struck by the resilience of the space program. "You hate to say that tragedy is the price of exploration, but it is sometimes the consequence of exploration.  The fact, though, that the space shuttle program didn't close down, that we didn't close up shop and say, 'This is too dangerous. We're not going to do it anymore,' I think, is a tribute to the American people and the American spirit," she said.

The next shuttle launch is set for late February. Discovery's blastoff has been postponed several times over several months for reassessments and repairs.

You May Like

Video Positive Messaging Helps Revamp Ethiopia's Image

In country once connected with war, poverty, famine, headlines now focus on fast-growing economy, diplomatic reputation More

Russian Activist Thinks Kremlin Ordered Nemtsov's Death

Alexei Navalny says comments of Russian liberals who think government wasn't involved are 'nonsense.' More

Video Land Disputes Rise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Imagei
X
Marthe van der Wolf
March 03, 2015 9:03 PM
Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.
Video

Video Land Disputes Arise Amid Uganda Oil Boom

Ugandan police say there has been a sharp increase in land disputes, with 10 new cases being reported each day. The claims come amid an oil boom as investors appear to be cashing in by selling parcels of land to multiple buyers. Meanwhile, the people who have been living on the land for decades are chased away, sometimes with a heavy hand. VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
Video

Video In Russia, Many Doubt Opposition Leader's Killer Will Be Found

The funeral has been held in Moscow for Boris Nemtsov, the opposition leader who was assassinated late Friday just meters from the Kremlin. Nemtsov joins a growing list of outspoken critics of Russia under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin who are believed to have been murdered for their work. VOA’s Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
Video

Video Simulated Astronauts Get Taste of Mars, in Hawaii

For generations, people have dreamed of traveling to Mars to explore Earth's closest planetary neighbor. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that while space agencies like NASA are planning manned missions to the planet, some volunteers in Hawaii are learning how humans will cope with months in isolation on a Mars base.
Video

Video Destruction of Iraq Artifacts Shocks Archaeologists

The city of Mosul was once one of the most culturally rich and religiously diverse cities in Iraq. That tradition is under attack by members of the Islamic State who have made Mosul their capital city. The Mosul Museum is the latest target of the group’s campaign of terror and destruction, and is of grave concern to archaeologists around the world. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More