January 28th, 2011
08:30 AM ET

Remembering the Challenger disaster, 25 years later

Seventy-three seconds.

That's how long NASA's space shuttle Challenger was in the air before an O-ring failure turned a routine mission into space into a tragedy on January 28, 1986.

Twenty-five years after NASA's first fatal in-flight accident, the memory of the Challenger disaster is still strong.

CNN's John Zarrella was at Kennedy Space Center to cover the launch - the first from NASA's new launchpad 39B. "I just remember seeing the cloud of smoke and what looked like fireworks coming out from the vehicle," says Zarrella. "We were all just looking at each other wondering 'OK, what's happened here?'"

CNN, still in its early years, was the only network to carry the launch live that Tuesday. Among those tuning in were children in classrooms across the country, watching what was to be a milestone: Christa McAuliffe, the program’s first teacher in space, lifted off as a member of the crew.

An investigation later revealed a rubber "O-ring" seal on one of Challenger's solid rocket boosters had failed because of unusually low temperatures. This caused a leak of highly explosive gases, which ultimately led to a catastrophic explosion at 46,000 feet.

It would be almost three years before the space shuttle program would return to flight. NASA wouldn't experience another disaster until the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003, when a hole in the shuttle's heat shield caused it to disintegrate on re-entry to Earth's atmosphere. The Columbia disaster would ground the shuttle program for another two years.

Seven lives were lost in the Challenger explosion: Dick Scobee, commander; Michael J. Smith, pilot; Ellison Onizuka, mission specialist; Judy Resnik, mission specialist; Ron McNair, mission specialist; Gregory Jarvis, payload specialist; and Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist and teacher.

Visit CNN.com's complete coverage: Remembering Challenger

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Filed under: Shuttle • Space
soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. banasy

    OMG, that’s been 25 years already? One of the saddest events in our Nation’s history…I was at work and we were all in our offices watching, and we literally all started wailing and crying. Yes, even the men. We closed the office. We were all just that upset. Even though 25 years have passed, I’ll bet anyone who witnessed that will always remember that day, and the courage of our astronauts, (living and passed) for stepping into the unknown, good and bad. RIP. Their families should know that, imo, they are heroes and epitomize why little boys and girls STILL want to grow up to be astronauts.

    And I WON'T be clicking on the video like; that image is something I will never forget...

    January 28, 2011 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Natalie

      It's actually been 35 years...

      January 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Natalie

      oops my bad...you're right! (minding my own business now...)

      January 28, 2011 at 11:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janet

      DISASTER….The Astronauts did NOT need to die. Reagan lied in his speech about the disaster forced NASA to launch as he said, “Let the Turkey Go UP!” Rockwell Employees watching first launch of Discovery after disaster, told me they knew for sure The Challenger crew was still alive on the ocean floor calling for help. They heard them. Cmdr. Dick Scobee; pilot Michael J. Smith; mission specialists Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka and Ron McNair; and payload specialists Gregory Jarvis and Christa McCucallife did NOT need to DIE!

      January 29, 2011 at 1:24 am | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      You were right the first time....the headline clearly says 25 YEARS!

      January 29, 2011 at 6:57 am | Report abuse |
    • sevresblue

      🙂 Natalie, Christa, as a teacher, would have said "Check your math!" 1986 & 25 is 2011
      Twenty Five.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
  2. tomcat

    Banasy, I also do not need to watch the video. It is another such as Kenedy's assassination or 9-11, that will be engraved in my memory till I die. Even after those events, we still have children that aspire to one day be President or even Fire Fighters. It is odd that theweather today in Florida is almost reminiscent of that cold day all those years ago. And yes, today should be a day of reflection and remembrance.

    January 28, 2011 at 9:54 am | Report abuse |
  3. Philip

    Good morning tomcat, banasy. Good to see you both again. I've missed you both, but found banasy last night and got over it. he he And tomcat! How are you? And yeah, I remember Challenger. Back then, most of US were afraid the soviet Union was going to invade US, and anything that even implied the USSR was getting the upper hand scared many. Not unlike today where most are afraid that the terrorists are coming. At least our government understands that international terrorists aren't coming. If the government took the threat of al Qaeda sneaking in, they would have secured our borders years ago. (RIP Challenger and Discovery crew, and I hope to see you all again someday)

    January 28, 2011 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • sevresblue

      I had 3 small children, so was no kid then, but I don't remember anybody being afraid Russia would invade us.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  4. Philip

    Took the threat of al Qaeda neeking in seriously rather.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:33 am | Report abuse |
    • dogs rule

      No one knows what you wrotr. If English isn't your first or even second language, please refrain from posting!

      January 29, 2011 at 7:00 am | Report abuse |
  5. JS

    Reagan MORON- with his cliche Hollywood BS- SCAMerica was alive and well back then too.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Pbarnwell

      JS Reagan was making a reference to a Pilots Prayer...

      January 28, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      As Pbarnwell alluded to, Reagan quoted part of the poem "High Flight", written by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American aviator who died in World War 2. This poem is pretty well known among aviators.

      January 28, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • donimus

      The Space Shuttle Program is successful despite what some may say, anytime you 're dealing with rockets and rocket fuel eventually ther will be a problem. But to fly 25 missions at that point and no serious accident is a testament to our superior ability to build rocket ships.

      The crew knew the risks.. One thing NASA learned from this is to put parachutes in the passenger compartment of that Space Shuttle _ when that explosion occurred the passgenger separated which it was designed to do it shot up 3 more miles, but that descent to the ocean and subsequent hitting that water is what killed them. If parachutes had been deployed and built into that Shuttle they would have survived.

      January 28, 2011 at 7:13 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Jim Brieske

    I remember thinking, Judith Resnik was a hottie. Thought, wow a hot smart chick is going into space. I was watching the launch, then the words throttle up, then boom boom and it was surreal. Hoping for survivors yet knowing there would be none. Then there were milllions of children watching it. Most schools were playing the launch on televisions in classrooms. There was a school teacher aboard.
    The Challenger could not have been any more painful of a disaster. It was a foolish publicity stunt by NASA and I am surprised they survived it. The millions of kids, well they probably would have made good soldiers someday after watching that.
    Nasa survived it by blaming the O rings. Making Americans picture this O ring in their mind and say, it's your fault. When the fact is NASA is in charge of inspecting and inspecting and inspecting every piece of the space shuttle assembly prior to launch. It will be good when they are retired.
    The space shuttles have been a waste of money and have cost the lives of two crews. Have we gotten any further from our planet? No. NASA in my opinion is a bunch of arrogant individuals who have been collecting a paycheck for 25 years with blood on their hands. Not a one of them is capable of thinking outside the box otherwise they would have figured it all out by now. They haven't figured it out because they have been sending human beings into space because they wanted jobs.
    This makes everyone murderers (to a degree) who were working at Nasa when the two shuttles exploded. The fact the crew members are in Heaven is irrelevent.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
    • clamb

      Actually 3 crews... Apollo 1, Challenger, and Discovery.

      January 28, 2011 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • NASAGuy

      How many NASA employees do you know? Tour a NASA Center like Goddard and then decide if we don't "think outside the box".

      January 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Brieske

      NasaGuy. You don't think outside the box. Otherwise 40 years ago, the procedure would have been :
      1.) Find the nearest earth-like planet.
      2.) Genetically alter human babies in their early stages of development to achieve beings that are suited for long distance high speed space travel. Having a larger heart and larger lungs with a bigger brain, smaller stature (shorter and thinner) with superior eyesight, intelligence etc etc etc. You must make space travelers first or you are doomed. It doesn't matter how many beings you lose in the process, the existence of the human race is at stake. Mankind will be lost if you fail.
      3.) You build the spacecraft based on what your space travelers abilities are and the brillance of it all is they will help you to succeed in building the spacecraft.
      4) Your space travelers take one man and woman in early developement to the Earth-like planet.
      Outside the box, not in. In has rules. The seriousness the situation reguires no rules.

      January 28, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dr. Nothgen

      Jim Brieske, please come back to the hospital. We need to get you back on your medication.

      January 28, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Student

      Mr. Brieske,
      I can see that this topic has had you quite frustrated for some time. I'm just sorry that you feel the need to debase yourself to vulgarities in order to feel as though you are heard. There have been difficulties with the space program, that's not being denied, but for you to state outright that there has been no good to come from it, I think is a bit short-sighted. If you are not aware, there are many scientific, agricultural, and medical innovations that have come from experiments performed on many of these missions...some of which I bet you use and are not even aware of.
      Also, since you have this all figured out, why aren't you working for NASA? Why haven't you achieved long-distance, high-speed space travel? Where's your mutant child who solves Einstein's equations during commercials breaks?
      Before you start pointing fingers at those whom you feel have failed, look in the mirror and honestly see if you can do better. If you can, then I am humbled.
      Plus, if you are, in some strange way, honoring the service of the crews, why do you state they have done nothing good? I look forward to your eloquent response.

      January 28, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Trust Me

      As you sit and benefit from the numerous technologies and knowledge that NASA has provided you, keep telling yourself that you are smarter and more successful to the human race than a 40 year team of over 1,000,000 dual-degree wielding scientists, engineers, biologists, technicians, inventors and explorers.

      Please do some research about NASA climate research, geology, oceanography, astrophysics and technology before speaking.....

      It's called a "NASA Spin-Off"-Goggle it.

      January 28, 2011 at 11:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnD

      STUDENT: There's some things that you must understand about those like Mr. Brieske. With the amount of comments he "excremented" on this blog, it is clear to me that he spends too much time "trolling" these "Comments" that he evidently has no "free time" to:
      1) Read books/articles from credible sources to understand the true, positive impact that those at NASA.
      2) Take time to better himself so he may someday have the skills and knowledge to work at some reputable place NASA rather than overcompensate for his own failures by ignoring the successes of NASA
      3) dedicate time to actually do something worthwhile so he MAY contribute something to society other than scathing, irrelevent and irrational remarks.
      In short, it's not worth the effort to respond to his trashings.

      One note - 3 lost crews during the 50+ years of NASA's existence - with that record of sucesses and failures as well as overall attention to detail and quality, I'd let them design my car ANY DAY!
      God bless the souls of the Challenger crew and to thier families.

      January 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • scientist

      @ Jim Brieski

      Nasa did NOT blame the O rings, it conducted an investigation,
      which concluded the O rings had faulted.

      Why would you think Nasa wanted us to believe it was our fault
      the Challenger blew up??? That doesn't even make any sense!

      Nasa was in charge of inspecting every piece of the shuttle, but
      you also have to realize that Nasa is not a person. It's a group
      of people and no matter how many times you check things out accidents
      are bound to happen. Unfortunately, it's just statistics.

      Nasa will never retire and without space shuttles we wouldn't have
      launched satellites and our technology wouldn't be as advanced (yes,
      space technology has impacted our every day technology).

      Nasa's mission is not just to make space shuttles to take us far from

      Do you think outside the box? Have you figured it ALL out, whatever All means to you?

      From all your comments it is safe to assume you are not a scientist and have no
      appreciation for science. So please don't comment about things you are ignorant about.

      January 29, 2011 at 12:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Brieske

      Student. The sole purpose of space travel is to get a reproducing male and female to the nearest Earth-like planet. Your unsolved theories relating to space travel will never be solved by humans.
      I work for God, so fuk you. I have gave the correct procedure for success. Humans are too stupid and they are not designed for high speed long distance space travel. You must develope beings who are much much more intelligent (than human beings), to solve the theories, to design, build and operate a spacecraft.
      And if you ever write to me in condescending tone again, I will be very very angry.
      Oh and I am a genius.
      Sorry Philip. This guys a punk, he deserves cuzz words.

      January 29, 2011 at 2:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Jim Brieske

      sientist. Any satelite that NASA has launched with the space shuttle could have been launched by rocket. I know you know that and I'm no rocket scienist. I have given the correct solution for getting humans to another Earth-like planet. I know you don't like it because it means job cuts. Bunch of people just wasting time and money anyways.
      As development success is reached then and only then the next step begins, as it should be.

      January 29, 2011 at 3:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Robert A.M. Stephens, LLC

      Are you an American? Odd. Too bad. You are typing and posting to a net that was originally a NASA interface. I know, I worked on it from Cern SZ with NASA in 1979 on what became the WWW. The insanity here in this thread is truly disturbing by so many posters here. At the time of Challenger, I was dating Dr. Judith Resnik (Judy to the rest of us) and was there that morning at KSC. I can tell you categorically your entire post details are totally false. Sad.

      And for you and the others in error, Discovery s still with us and due to for the next launch of STS-133. I think you are trying to refer to Columbia, STS-107, failed 2003. 2 failures in 133 flights, is a success margin unheard of in any mechanical way on Earth. The Shuttle has 761 CRIT items that any one of which to fail, is loss of mission, vehicle and crew.

      Robert A.M. Stephens, LLC
      Scaled Dynamcis
      NASA Visual Exploration
      Pan America
      Have Jeep, Have Heart, Will Travel

      January 29, 2011 at 4:37 am | Report abuse |
    • mr keno

      challenger was criminal negligence plain and simple heads should have rolled
      it was freezing cold ice cycles were hanging off the shuttle
      there were scientists(rocket scientists) at thiokol the builder of the SRBs that warned about the risk of a cold weather launch
      and advised against launch nasa didnt listen arrogance killed the crew

      January 29, 2011 at 7:33 am | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    @Jim Brieske...I agree. NASA is funded by US citizens, with over 80% of US professing belief in God. NASA has no business using those funds in their arrogant attempts to prov e God does not exist. It would be like giving your kid lunch money, and the kid used that money to make handbills saying his own dad is full of BS. The little brat would get grounded.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • nonesuch

      There isn't a nationally recognized religion in America. Stop whining, you big baby. I'm NOT a believer and I pay my taxes, too. I guess that makes me the guy teaching your kid to call BS on you. Try not to choke on it.

      January 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • NASAGuy

      Where did you get the idea that NASA is trying to prove that God doesn't exist? Many NASA scientists and engineers are quite religious.

      January 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • myklds

      @Philip...That 80% is comprise only by Christian and doesn't include other "religions". Thus, it's more than 80%. It's at least 97% of the populace are believer.

      @nonesuch...whether recognised or not but numbers don't lie and it saying that Non-believers are immaterial and insignificant and a "nonesuch" when it comes to statistics.

      January 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • eixid

      So what if nasa isn't trying to prove that god doesn't exist... but somehow ends up doing so due to the overwhelming evidence that he doesn't exist? What would you do then?

      January 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      I knew there would be a screwball past on anything science related, here it is

      January 28, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Brieske

      Philip. Well said. Nasa is about getting about a paycheck and frivilous adventures that get us nowhere. The only difference between sending men to the Moon and sending humans to Mars is it would be a ten thousand times more stupid. Nothing is gained and valuable time is lost.
      Nasa should be torn apart, stripped down and rebuillt with it's only operating goals being the 4 steps I stated. I have given the correct procedure, anything else is pointless.

      January 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jim Brieske

      Correction: Nasa is about getting a paycheck.

      January 28, 2011 at 9:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    Wasn't it the Columbia disaster? So many shuttle missions, hard to keep track. Congress agreed to fund the space suttle program because NASA promised to make it cheaper for industry to get cargo into space. The whole program was based on an empty promise.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shaunathan

      I suppose you want maritime trade to cease because of all of the sailors who've ever drowned, or air travel to cease because of all of the planes that have crashed. Stay back in the 19th century, or better yet, go back 2,000 yrs where you belong.

      January 28, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Grant

    I was working at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA on that day. The entire 5,000 employee staff and contractors were watching the shuttle launch on NASA-Select TV, in nearly every building on the base. Then the explosion. The entire community gasped. It was absolutely surreal. Everywhere on the base, people were stunned and in shock for the rest of the day. Very few people said much on that day. I cannot believe twentyfive years have since gone by. RIP.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Peter Melzer

    I remember the brilliant demonstration of Richard Feynman in Congress about the elasticity of O-rings at freezing temperatures. The Challenger tragedy should forever remind us how existential it is that we assess risk properly.

    Read more here:

    January 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Natalie

    Space shuttle Discovery is still in service, currently scheduled for it's last mission prior to retirement, STS-133, February 24th. Also in service are Endeavor (will retire after STS-134) and Atlantis (will retire after STS-135).

    It was space shuttle Columbia that broke up during re-entry. So yes, Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia.

    January 28, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Kingfisher

    Having watched that live, I'd still fly one-way to Mars.

    "You pick the place and I'll choose the time, and I'll climb that hill in my own way." ~pFearless

    January 28, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Michael K

    I watched this live as Junior in HS. I had dreams that never transpired to be an astronaut, and was always very interested in the space program. I was devastated by this. When I got home, I lowered the flag in front of our home. This was always a vivid memory for my Mother as she told me years later that she watched me lowering the flag and just cried. Rest in Peace Challenger Crew and Mom. God Speed.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Duane

    I watched this live as well. What I most remember is the calmness after the explosion. The NASA narrator just kept talking about speed and other data as if it were businesss as usual. My roommate and I looked at each other speechless. Clearly it appeared something horrific had just happened.

    I also remember that the school teacher's parents were at the Center watching the take-off, and of course, when it became clear that something horrific had happened, the invasive camera stayed on them.

    January 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. edu

    May family members and friends of the astronauts killed, have peace and absolution for this day and forever. RIP

    January 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lisa - Boston, MA

      Agreed -

      January 28, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • sevresblue

      Nice thought. I don't know what the family members would need 'absolution' for... maybe you know something we don't, but peace, for sure.

      January 29, 2011 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
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