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. Philip

    @Ethan...that's right! Morton-Thiokol. I was trying to remember but too tired and lazy to go back and look. Thanks for setting this straight, in my mind at least.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Madd DoG

    if you listen to the video you will hear that the Challenger finally took off after countless delays. What were the delays/ Due to bad weather ...so why did it have to take off on 1/28/86? Because Regan was going to use the teacher in space as a prop for his State fo the Union address...as he had always done .. Granada ect... That is why is was launched otherwise they would have waited 1 day or 2 day or even 3 days. This was a political mistake not an engineering mistake.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:26 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Keithsix

    Wow it's been 25yrs how adulthood changes a person, (atleast most of us) I remember when this happened I was in elementary school and we watch it in the classroom. and to show you how innocent kids are, or how cruel. We use to joke that NASA stands for Need Another Seven Astronaut. I watch discovery Fall apart as an adult and it made me reflect back to see how truly sad that day was for NASA and the Challenger crew.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dear Jim Brieske

    You and I have had several conversations over the past year. We have been polite with each other, and there is a respectful tone in the way we address each other. We disagree a lot, but sometimes agree, as with NASA. here. (I have suffered numerous personal attacks when I agree with you ya know?) I respect your views even when I disagree, as you do mine. I would like to ask you Sir, to please tone your anger a notch or two. I am angry too, anger being expressed hurt. I do not make this request because I am personally offended by your oftentimes abusive speech. I am concerned for you Jim. If I may make one suggestion: try using synonyms for your hate words. Like instead of 'fuk', try 'frick'. Sh/t is ok by me, but others find it offensive. try 'crap' instead, especially when referring to a human. I hope you see that my concern is genuine, and I would miss you if you were gone from here. (slap on shoulder and smile @Jim) Concerned friend, Philip

    January 28, 2011 at 10:43 pm | Report abuse |
  5. galeski

    My dream of being an astronaut died that day. My heart broke, and has not yet healed.
    The only true way to honor those whom we've lost is to make space travel and scientific discovery as safe as ever before. We can never once assume that because it's been safe in the past, it will be safe again.
    Thank you, Ms. McAuliffe, for inspiring me to be a science teacher. I will never forget the day you died, nor will I forget how you lived.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:45 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Npitts

    Tragic day....

    January 28, 2011 at 10:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. rock_paper_scissor

    I was in the 5th grade watching this on TV in school. I couldn't believe it. The worst part of the whole thing was the exploitation of the grieving faces of the teacher's family. Even after this happened I always had dreams of becoming an astronaut (science and math were never my thing). If NASA called me tomorrow and said they needed an ordinary girl to see the effects that space had on her, I would be the first in line.

    January 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jennifer

    Unbelievable, 25 years ago.. Already?!? I remembered the event just like yesterday. I was a 6 grader at WPSD in Pittsburgh, PA. I remembered the confusions of our teachers', and students' faces. Including myself.. I was not quite understand what's happening after watching on TV at first.. Then we all realized what had happened and we were upset and discussing about what happened. it was difficult week. The teachers/ staff had special bulletin in the hall way with each of 7 astronauts pictures and their backgrounds being written.. I don't think I could remember how beautiful the bulletin they made in the hall way.. I think we have kept them on bulletin through year.

    I couldn't click on video either.. I remembered the event on tv too well and it is very disturbing event for me to watch again.. God bless those 7 lives and their families.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Philip

    @Student...I do not feel NASA has been a wise bargain. They promised Congress that if the shuttle program got funded, they would make it inexpensive for private industry to ship cargo into space This proved to be an empty promise, and finally the shuttle program is winding down but only after much investment lost, and lives lost, some needlessly. As far as NASA in it's entirety, I really do not know of what they have done to solve mankinds problems. Whatever it was, it wasn't famous or I might have heard about it. And Jim is actually doing better along these lines in the past year. Please be patient with him. we are all 'work in progress' ya know. And thank you for being a good wordsmith. You couldda really torn into Jim, but you refrained...somewhat. he-he

    January 28, 2011 at 11:06 pm | Report abuse |
  10. John

    Was only 17, this day i still remember watching challenger exploded & still haunts me.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. timi12

    I don't want to watch the video either...even though I was barely 16 years old when this happened, I'll never forget where I was either. Sitting in chemistry class, when one of the nuns came in, whispered something in our teacher's ear, then she proceeded to the tv on the wall, turned it on and we watched the explosion over and over again and we had a moment of silence for the astronauts and their families. Just like 9/11, watching those images is way too disturbing...especially the faces of the children, clapping and waving their flags, and then the sheer horror at the realization of what had just happened. God bless those astronauts, their families and everyone that's ever had to endure something like this!

    January 28, 2011 at 11:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ken

    This happened on my 16th birthday. It's hard to believe that it has already been 25 years. I remember everyone at school walking around just numb and dumbfounded. I'm sure this is just as fresh for the families of those astronauts today as it was then. I pray for a peace for them that surpasses their own understanding.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Just Trust Me

    If it was easy, anyone could do it.
    If it wasn't dangerous, we wouldn't need the brave.
    If we had all the answers, we wouldn't have to explore.

    RIP 51-L

    January 28, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Just Trust Me

    FYI – You pay less than a $1.00 a week to support NASA.
    Americans spend more money on Cigarettes or Pizza, or gambling and drugs than on NASA.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Just Trust Me

    NASA's budget is less than 1% of the Fed Budget.
    MUCH LESS when minuscule compared to Def, Medicare, SS, medicaid, etc.

    Not a bad deal considering NASA was/is instrumental in launching our weather and communications satellites.
    Not too mention, studying oceanography, geology, climate change, atmospheric conditions, Biology, technology, engineering, etc.

    January 28, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Report abuse |
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