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The Tragic Challenger Explosion

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Science & Nature

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Space Travel. It is a sense of national pride
for many Americans. If you ask anyone who was alive at the time, they could
probably tell you exactly where they were when they heard that Neil Armstrong
was the first person to walk on the Moon. But all of the success in our space
programs is overshadowed by tragedy. On January 28, 1986, one of the worst
disasters in our space program's history occurred. Many people were watching at
the moment because it was the highly televised space mission where, for the
first time, a civilian was a member of the crew that was to be shot into space.
This civilian was the winner of the "Teacher in Space" contest, Christa
McAuliffe. The disaster: the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger.
(Compton's 1) Many people thought that disaster couldn't strike because a
civilian was on board. But as the whole nation found out, nobody is immortal.
By examining this further, we will look at the lives of the seven who died in
this dumbfounding calamity, take a look at exactly what went wrong during this
fateful mission, and the outcome from this sorrowful occurrence. First, who
exactly were those astronauts that died on the Challenger? Sharon Christa
Corrigan McAuliffe, born in 1948, was the famous winner of the teacher-in-space
program, was a high school teacher at Concord, N. H., a wife, and a mother of
two children. She touched the lives of all those she knew and taught. As a
school official in Concord said after her death, "To us, she seemed average.
But she turned out to be remarkable. She handled success so beautifully." She
also wanted everyone to learn more, including herself. Demonstrating her
aspirations after entering the space program, she is quoted saying, "What are we
doing here? We're reaching for the stars." Also, after reflecting on her
position, she said in August 1995, "I touch the future, I teach (Gray 32)."
Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, born in 1948, was a tremendous enthusiast for aviation
and the space program. At 18 years old, he enlisted in the Air Force. While
working as a mechanic in the service, he put himself through night school,
eventually earning a degree in aerospace engineering that helped him become an
officer and a pilot. He loved flying. Scobee once observed, :You know, it's a
real crime to be paid for a job that I have so much fun doing." On one of his
space missions, he carried a banner made for him by students at Auburn High, his
old high school. It read "TROJANS FLY HIGH WITH SCOBEE." School officials
announced after the tragic explosion that the banner would be put on display to
remind others at Auburn High that other seemingly ordinary students can too fly
high. (Gray 33) Judith Resnik, born 1949, had a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.
She was very ambitious and loved everything. She once said, "I want to do
everything there is to be done." Being chosen for the space program gave her
the opportunity to meet a few self-described personal goals: "To learn a lot
about quite a number of different technologies; to be able to use them somehow,
to do something that required a concerted team effort and, finally, a great
individual effort (Gray 33)." She had said once, when asked, about the dangers
of the space program, "I think something is only dangerous if you are not
prepared for it or if you don't have control over it or if you can't think
through how to get yourself out of a problem." For Resnik, danger was simply
another unknown to be mastered. Ronald McNair, born in 1950, was the second
black man in space. He was truly remarkable growing up in his segregated South
Carolina school. He was remembered by those he knew as "one who was always
looking to the clouds." Jesse Jackson, one of his collage classmate's at N.C.
Agricultural and Technical State University said McNair saw participation in the
space program as "the highest way he could contribute to the system that gave
him so much." McNair did think much of the space program. He once said, "The
true courage of space flight comes from enduring . . . persevering and believing
in oneself (page 34)." Michael Smith, born in 1945, always had his head in the
clouds. At the age of 16, he soloed in a single-engine Aeronca. After the U.S.
put its first astronaut into space in 1961, Smith decided that was where he
wanted to be. His older brother said, "In high school he paid a lot of
attention to academics because he knew that was the best way to get in." He
also thought much of the space program. He once said, "Everybody looks at
flying the shuttle as something dangerous. But it's not. It's a good program,
and something the country should be proud of (Gray 34)." Ellison Onizuka, born
in 1946, became an instant hero to both the Hawaiians and the Japanese Americans
because he was the first member of either group to fly in space. He was one who
was always fascinated by the vastness of outer space and spend a lot of time
studying it. When he was young, he spent much of his time examining the
universe through a telescope at Honolulu's Bishop Museum. He also said before
the Challenger launch, "I'll be looking at Halley's comet. They tell me I'll
have on of the best views around (Gray 35)." His family always looked favorably
upon his achievement. After the tragedy, his mother remembered that "Ellison
always had it in his mind to become an astronaut, but was too embarrassed to
tell anyone. When he was growing up, there were no Asian astronauts, no black
astronauts, just white ones (Gray 35)." Ellison will be forever remembered as
being the first Japanese American in space. Finally, the last member of the
seven person crew, Gregory Jarvis, born in 1944. Gregory was very dedicated to
the space program. Despite being bumped off two previous flights, he finally
got his chance. Unfortunately, his only flight was that of the Challenger. It
is very saddening to see seven bright lives vanish in a ball of fire, but it is
said that the explosion was so rapid that the crew did not realize their coming
fate. (Gray 35) Perhaps we can all take comfort in the fact that their last
vision was that of the stars. Now, many people haven't heard exactly what went
wrong to cause such an explosion. (Dumoulin, 1-2) The Challenger finally
launched after five days of delays. On January 28, 1986, the morning of the
launch, there was ice at Kennedy Space Center. After an inspection crew gave
the go-ahead, the launch was underway. Just after liftoff at .678 seconds into
the flight, photographic data show a strong puff of gray smoke was spurting from
the vicinity of the aft field joint on the right solid rocket booster. Computer
graphic analysis of film from pad cameras indicated the initial smoke came from
the 270 to 310-degree sector of the circumference of the aft field joint of the
right solid rocket booster. This area of the solid booster faces the External
Tank. The vaporized material streaming from the joint indicated there was not
complete sealing action within the joint. Eight more distinctive puffs of
increasingly blacker smoke were recorded between .836 and 2.500 seconds. The
smoke appeared to puff upwards from the joint. While each smoke puff was being
left behind by the upward flight of the Shuttle, the next fresh puff could be
seen near the level of the joint. The multiple smoke puffs in this sequence
occurred at about four times per second, approximating the frequency of the
structural load dynamics and resultant joint flexing. As the Shuttle increased
its upward velocity, it flew past the emerging and expanding smoke puffs. The
last smoke was seen above the field joint at 2.733 seconds. The black color and
dense composition of the smoke puffs suggest that the grease, joint insulation
and rubber O-rings in the joint ...

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Keywords: the challenger tragedy, challenger explosion, why is the challenger explosion important, explosion challenger 1986

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