The Space Shuttle Challenger - An American Disaster

Lift Off!
Lift Off!

 When I was young, I loved the space exploration program.  I had wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up, but went a different direction in my life.  However, my love of the excitement and novelty of the shuttle take-offs has remained.  I remember the TV stations would make a big deal of every launch, and broadcast ONLY the launch, cut into any show which was airing at the same time, and treat it as important as the State of the Union address.  I also remember, in January of 1986, when I was in high school and there were televisions in every classroom, which were left on (even during class) so that we could watch the launch live.  As the countdown progressed, so did the excitement.  The shuttle's two solid rocket boosters on either side of it roared to life and you could almost feel the massive wave of heat rolling off of them.   Actually, that particular launch was especially meaningful for me because of the contest.  Does anyone remember the contest NASA held?  The one where you nominated your favorite science teacher to have a chance to go up in the Challenger? 

Front Row:  Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Donald McNair Back Row:  Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAullife, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick
Front Row: Michael Smith, Dick Scobee, Donald McNair Back Row: Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAullife, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick | Source

 I, too, had nominated my science teacher (who happened to be my favorite teacher as I love science) and was notified that he had passed the first round.  We were all very eager to see if he would make it - the local news carried the ongoing selection process and kept us to date on the latest developments.  He eventually got eliminated, and everyone was quite disappointed.  But we continued following the contest to find out just which lucky teacher would have the chance of a lifetime.  In the end, it was Christa McAuliffe from Concord,NH who won the "ultimate" prize - a ride in the space shuttle!  She was the first winner of the Teacher in Space Project.  Well, there were supposed to be more winners.  We watched, enviously, as she trained to be an astronaut and prepared to teach students from space.  Eventually, as the launch date drew closer and closer. the news coverage of this "ordinary" person going up grew greater and greater.  The day of the launch, January 28, 1986, everyone that I knew was glued to their television.  It was amazing!  Then the countdown, the ignition, the whoosh of the fire from the boosters, and live shots of onlookers standing faaar away.  And then,  72 seconds into the launch, something was wrong.  Smoke and then fire started to seep from the right hand rocket booster.  And in a second, it was all over.  An explosion ripped through the booster, igniting the super flammable rocket fuel and blowing up the entire shuttle.  The charred remains fell into the ocean.  All seven of the astronauts on board died either instantaneously or when they hit the water.  That was it.  The dream was over.  The news reports said that there had been a hairline crack in the right side solid rocket booster, and the force and pressure of the lift-off essentially caused the booster to rip open and destroy the shuttle program for at least the next two years.

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