Disaster on NASA and the Future of the United States Space Program?
This was the major question proposed during the late 1980's. What was the
future of NASA going to be after this terrible disaster? Would there be
enough funding for the continuation of the United States Space Program?
This Challenger explosion was one of the major catastrophes of the entire
Space Program since the beginning of funding for the Space Program was
started. It seems, out of all the mistakes that NASA and the United States
government has ever made, this one made a lasting impression on many
Americans, and foreign authority figures all over the world.
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster was a major tragedy. However,
it was a tragedy that could have been prevented with a closer inspection of
one of the shuttle's parts that had been of concern since the entire Space
Shuttle Program had been started; the O-Ring. Inside the Solid Rocket
Booster, there exists certain seals which were the rubber O-rings. The
objective of the O-rings is to act as a seal that is meant to prevent gases
from escaping through the Solid Rocket Booster. One of the main reasons
for the explosion was that O-ring "flexed" and let the gases escape, which
in less than seconds later, caught fire and created the explosion.
Among the other minor problems were those of electrical problems and
faulty gages which were just "overlooked" because the problems were only
minor and they posed no real threat to the safety of the mission or the
crew of seven(7).
11:39:17am, Tuesday, January 28th, 1986. As the Space Shuttle
Challenger soared into the sky that morning, 74 seconds into flight, it
exploded, killing all 7 crew members on board including one High-School
teacher. This was the worst accident in the history of the U.S. Space
Program. It was witnessed by thousands of spectators and visitors who
watched at the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded before their eyes.
Among the crew killed were: Francis R. Scobee, Commander; Michael J.
Smith, Pilot; Judith A. Resnick, Electrical Engineer; Ellison S. Onizuka,
Engineer; Ronald E. McNair, Physicist; Gregory R. Jarvis, Electrical
Engineer; Christa McAuliffe, High-School teacher. For most of the crew, it
was just an ordinary mission with the exception of the school teacher. For
Christa McAuliffe, it was everything out of the ordinary. She was the one
out of many applicants that had the opportunity to ride in the Space
Shuttle to help teach children all over the country about the experiments
she was going to accomplish in space. As the spectators at Kennedy Space
Center watched, everyone was in disbelief including many of the technicians
inside the control room communicating with Francis Scobee, the Commander of
the Shuttle Challenger. This experience is best described through a
passage between Challenger and the Control Room which occurred as this:
"Challenger lifted off...and passed Mach One, the speed of sound, at
19,000 feet. The computers throttled back the three main engines to 65
percent of thrust, anticipating the stress that the engineers call Max-Q,
maximum aerodynamic pressure.
'Okay, we're throttling down,' Scobee reassured his crew as the thrust
For fourteen seconds they swayed and jolted silently in their seats
while the shuttle chopped through wind shear.
'Throttling up', Scobee called, watching the bright lines of his
flight data screen.
'Throttle up', Smith confirmed from his own instruments
'Roger', Dick Scobee formally acknowledged.
'Feel that mother go', Smith called, noting the violent surge of power.
As the Challenger climbed, its computers processed millions of bits of
data, sifting, sorting, and sending it down to the Cape where it was
instantly re- transmitted to the Mission Control Room at Johnson Space
Center in Texas. Inside the control room, the technicians saw that the
Challenger's engines had returned normally to full thrust, and that the
ascent was proceeding perfectly. CAPCOM Richard Covey hunched at his
console, his face tight with concentration. 'Challenger",... "go at
On Challenger's noisy flight deck, Commander Scobee punched his
transmit button and replied, 'Roger, go at throttle up.'
It was exactly seventy seconds after lift-off. The Shuttle was near
50,000 feet...but in the next three seconds Challenger slammed through
increasingly violent maneuvers. Mike Smith voiced sudden apprehension. 'Uh-
In Mission Control, the pulsing digits on the screens abruptly stopped.
At the top of each console screen, a frozen while "S" was now centered.
Static, no down-link. Challenger was dead.
Mission Control spokesman Steve Nesbit sat...he stared around the
silent, softly lit room. The red trajectory line was stationary on the
display screen. Finally, he spoke: 'Flight controllers here are looking
very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction." (Excerpts
from Challenger, a Major Malfunction, McConnell, Introduction.)
This was one of the more moving at sensitive words spoken at the time
which showed the disbelief many had and how such a mistake could have been
The deaths of the astronauts lie in the memories of many, including
students across the country and the world. Christa McAuliffe's parents
called them all "heroes" and that they have grief and condolences for all
people effected everywhere by the tragedy. McAuliffe's parents were
thankful that their lives were kept private during this hard time, and they
said that even with this terrible disaster, life must go on.
Across the seas, there was also feelings of sorrow and disbelief. Pope
John Paul II at the Vatican on January 30th, 1986 at the Vatican he talked
and comforted the people about the loss of the American astronauts. He
talked to the people, and made this lasting preach: "I lift up to God a
fervent prayer so that he accepts in his embrace the souls of these
courageous pioneers in progress of science and of man." (The New York Times,
Jan. 30th, 1986; A16)
Along with the Pope, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi sent his "personal
condolences" to the families and friends of the American astronauts. "It
is a very sad day, not only for all Americans, but for all humanity." (NY
Times, Jan. 30th, 1986; A16).
Mikhail S. Gorbachev also sent condolences over to the United States
for the death of the seven astronauts. From quotes from the Soviet people,
they had high expectations of American technology and were devastated that
such a tragedy could occur. Showing support, they have not lost faith,
claims a citizen in Russia.
For Americans especially, it was a sad and mournful day. Many
Americans were thankful of the warm and thoughtful condolences that many of
the foreign nations of the world sent to the United States for support.
Among the most surprised commentator, was Muammar Quadaffi due to the
feelings of unrest that the United States had toward Libya and vice versa.
Overall, Americans were pleased and thankful of the support they received
across the world to deal with the deaths.
Many people were especially hopeful about the health statistics of the
astronauts. They hoped that the crew could have survived the 10 mile
decent into the ocean at speeds of over 400 mph. This could have been a
possibility at first, since technicians believed that since the explosion
occurred in the rear of the shuttle, the cabin might still be in tact, yet
the astronauts would probably be unconscious. However, this was not the
case. NASA officials speculate that either the astronauts died in the
shuttle in the air, or they were unconscious and died from impact into the