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

Post by:
Filed under: Shuttle • Space
soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. The Space Hater

    Stupid space Shuttle!!!!!!! Good riddens it's almost over!!!!!!It's more than four decades old.Enough!!!!!!!!! I a couple of centuries,when humans do have commercialised space flight,we will look at this in the same light as we look at automobiles like the Model T: milestones,but stupid compared to what we have now.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Just Trust Me

      Clueless...Please don't reproduce!

      January 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm | Report abuse |
  2. delphine herbert

    I remember clearly how NASA did NOT wish to proceed with the flight because of the faulty O-rings and the frigid weather but Reagan wanted to brag that evening when he was scheduled to give his State of the Union. Since that time NASA has been shrouded in secrecy.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RememberThem

    and giving up NASA is such a betrayal to these brave men and women.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Apocalypse

    NASA need another seven astronauts

    January 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Bill

    I had just moved to Florida the year before and met an married my wife on January 4, 1986. On the way back from our honeymoon in NC we saw the last successful launch early in the morning as we were driving back to Miami. I remember waking up that morning in Miami with the temparature at 39 F. I was installing mirrors in a condo on a top floor and watched from the balcony as I was able to see the launch from Miami.

    It wasn't till I was at another job that I realized that they had all died. It turns out that they would have survived if the waited just one day. Unfortunately twenty five years later we are forcing things through because of either pride, politics or ego despite that fact that people are going to suffer because of it.

    If you think I'm railing against Obama, remember that this happened during the Reagan administration. There was a time that regardless of what happened in the world almost every person in the US would have water and food because they received their resources locally. Unfortunately in three days of a distruption of food in the US over 250 million would be without any food for weeks if not months. Now is not a good time to live in a major metropolitan area.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sean

    I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was in first grade and was so completely captivated by NASA, the Space Shuttle program, Astronauts in space, TV shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, and so many more. The Space shuttle meant limitless imagination to my generation.Topped off by the first Teacher going into space, it was going to be an amazing time. I remember sitting in my class room that day in 1st grade watching the Challenger lift off live and then disaster. Our teachers didn't know what to do but to turn off the TV's and start classes, but we all knew that something had gone wrong. Even though we were just 1st graders, we knew something wasn't right and as the day progressed we heard the news.

    I think about that day from time to time and realize that even though the worst that could have happend did come true, it did not take away from our hopes and dreams, but instead gave us a sense of reality, that space travel is real. As a result, I and many of my generation were even more captivated by space travel and science. This disaster didn't scare us, but in reality inspired us to become better than we are.

    Following that day, the only other day that stands out as earth shattering was 911, but then I was no longer a child. Instead I was a college student. NASA represents my generation's hopes and dreams. The idea of NASA disapearing feels like the end of something great. I'd rather see the government work on privatizing NASA instead of scrapping it. It's the greatest disservice we can give to our fallen heros.

    January 28, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. DW

    I was in kindergarten when the Challenger exploded and it was the first bad thing that I remember happening. The day afterwards our teacher say us down and had us talk about it. We were too young to really understand what was happening, but now 25 years later I still find it difficult to watch Challenger explode as it soared into the sky.

    January 28, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Philip

    Wow! Great stories here. (the ones I actually read w/o scrolling through) What vivid memories on display! My recollections are not near so precise. I remember stuff like the guy who worked for the company that made the faulty 0-ring. I don't remember his name. I think it was Thiakol who made the rings. I remember he tried to warn NASA, and he left Thiakol on bad terms. (shrug) I'm not a big fan of NASA. I admire the runway that the shuttle lands on. It's the flattest surface on earth. (Death Valley's "Racetrack" is a close second though)

    January 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. bailoutsos

    They died because no one had the ba//s to say "STOP" even though there was info about the seals.

    January 28, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  10. EEE

    I was sitting in Mrs. Pruett's 8th grade reading class. We were reading excerpts from To Kill a Mockingbird, when i heard loud gasps, and muffled noises from the class next door. The principal's secretary got on the intercom, sounding like she had been crying. The Challenger had an accident she said. The science class next door had been watching it live. I didn't see the tragedy until I went to lunch right after reading class. The cafeteria staff had a television in the cafeteria, no one ate, we all stood around the tv, and the media kept replaying the launch over and over. The whole school was somber. RIP. I can't believe it was 25 years.

    January 28, 2011 at 9:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. dike

    I was in an another country opposite to the USA on the globe and was watching it on my B&W TV on the news long after it happened and we were all shocked.... we were hoping somehow NASA was so great it would bring the astronauts back to life... We still consider NASA as the very top in science and innovation

    January 28, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ethan

    "obviously a major malfunction" is the understatement of the century. This accident was completely avoidable!! Morton Thiokol knew about the o-rings and the engineers said don't launch, and yet they launched anyway. May the crew rest in peace though.

    January 28, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      I could not agree more, people were on the phone all night telling them NOT to launch, it was too cold, and they caved in to pressure and launched anyway, I would not want to live with that decision for the rest of my life

      January 29, 2011 at 12:26 am | Report abuse |
  13. sam

    what your name

    January 28, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KatyOC

    I was in Navy boot camp in Orlando, FLA and saw the explosion from the "grinder". It was an incredibly cold day. Since I had been in boot camp and was completely tuned out of any kind of media I had no idea this was even the Challenger. I thought it was Quadafi making good on his threats to bomb the US. The day I left for boot, Quadafi was televised on American TV with his threats to bomb us. This was pretty much the last thing I saw on TV before heading to Florida from So Cal. When our company did find out what had happened, it was surreal. Honestly, even then I still wasn't convinced it wasn't some kind of terrorist act.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. klorrfign

    I was in High School.Two of the Challenger astronauts had kids at my school.Many of our parents worked for NASA.It was such a sad time.People lost loved ones and our country lost heros.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:02 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9