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. Jim Copley @ jcvideo@shaw.ca

    The voice of the NASA person speaking during the launch and lift off still haunts me. His voice was clear and without emotion. Reminds me of 'Houston, we have a problem'. Where is he? jc

    January 29, 2011 at 4:48 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jennifer

    I was in the first year of middle school and thinking that I wanted to be an astronaut. When I heard no one was watching it live but the rumors swept the school anyway and no one knew any information to tell the students. I had to wait and see it replayed at home that afternoon on the TV. The first viewing was nothing but disbelief and the second was when I knew that they had not survived. Gut instinct from an 11 year old but true none the less. I also remember the quoting of the poem High Flight by President Reagan. It became one of my favorite poems and it still is to this day.

    January 29, 2011 at 5:16 am | Report abuse |
  3. mike

    Has the US managed to connect Al Qaeda to this one yet?

    January 29, 2011 at 5:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. 45TR1D

    I do remember this event from my childhood, it was very sad. I think that all the astronauts who go into space are brave and belong to a very special club. RIP to those who died in the Challenger disaster, and to all the others who have lost their lives in the pursuit of space

    PS – Jim Brieske – thanks for the laugh

    January 29, 2011 at 7:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Philip

    I see a lot of praise for NASA here. But what is suspisiously missing from your posts ia an accounting of all the great and famous accomplishments that actually helped solve the problems facing humanity right now. One poster tried to give the shuttle program credit for satellites. Even the sputnik proves you don't need to send people in space for that. List for me NASA's contributions to humanity.

    January 29, 2011 at 8:11 am | Report abuse |
    • sevresblue

      Leave it Philip – this is about the people who died...

      January 29, 2011 at 8:16 am | Report abuse |
  6. sevresblue

    Still is painful. I was NOT watching the live launch (getting ready for or just in from car pooling from the nursery school) and my Dad called and all he could say was "Your friend.... your friend...." And I was so 'busy' I kind of snapped at him "WHAT, Dad?" And he just said "Turn on the TV..." When I asked "What station?" and he said "Any..." I got a sick feeling in my stomach and watched over and over that truly wonderful person that had been so kind to me, and all of the other outstanding astronauts ... augh. Truly, I hope their families somehow recovered from this horrific event.

    January 29, 2011 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  7. Philip

    "The natural laws of the universe are so precise that we have no difficulty building a spaceship to fly to the moon and can time the flight with the precision of a fraction of a second. These laws must have been set by somebody."–Wernher von Braun // Anyone care to argue with von Braun's logic this morning?

    January 29, 2011 at 8:21 am | Report abuse |
  8. mrbones

    Ask NASA if they are proud of this. They are the ones who launched knowing there were problems with the O rings at low temps. Bunch of idiots. .

    January 29, 2011 at 8:54 am | Report abuse |
  9. DAN

    Wow! I guess this disaster in embedded in my mind and I don't realize it. Yesterday, 1/28/2011, without realizing the significance of the date, I brought up at work the Challenger disaster. I was asking people where were they when it happened. Some people were too young to remember. I clearly remember where I was. I was taking the ASVAB test for entrance into the military. Our councelor came into the auditorium to announce the disaster. We all were devistated and lost complete focus of the test. I've always said that this was one of those moments that influenced the direction of my life. My score was not bad after that mess but it was not excellent. I qualified for the Army which was overall a good experience. I was actually aiming for the Air Force which most people know gives you better chances of a great career after service. I acutally came out better due to this dark disaterous twist of fate with my career. I still get misty-eyed when I think of the Challenger exploding. I was and still am a big fan of NASA. God bless the Challenger crew and their friends and family.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:02 am | Report abuse |
  10. Corinne

    To all who are discrediting NASA do u realize that you are disgracing all of the men and women who died on the Challenger and the other two crews. I remember sitting in my classroom in grade school watching the Challenger and being amazed then in seconds i can't even discribe what I felt. Jim B I can't believe that you would sit there on your high horse and think that you are better than anyone in NASA. Why don't you put your money where your mouth is and go apply for a job there doing anything and lets see how far you get. You probably won't get past security because they can usually spot a DUMB A** when they see them.... Don't sit there on your high horse and talk about those who have parished in the missions. You have no right to talk what have you done to contribute to the world besides run all that hot air out of your body.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. Sabuhi

    So vivid are those memories......encompasses all human emotions within those 60 seconds.....ardor,zeal,intrigue and later anguish and void......

    January 29, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
    • Splish

      Last words heard on Shuttle Black Box: "Oh GEEZ DONT TOUCH THAT!!!!"

      January 29, 2011 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • dax312

      Whats not commonly known is that the crew didn't die in the initial explosion; they died on impact with the ocean 90 seconds later. The crew compartment broke free of the rest of the shuttle and continued climbing for several seconds and then plunged into the ocean. The most horrifying thing is that they knew they were going to die for 90 seconds. All this is in nasa's official report on the accident.

      January 29, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Christa

    Don't ever wish to be someone else. My name is Christa (yes, spelled the same way). I am (and was) a science nerd and a teacher. I Identified with Ms McAuliffe and really wished I could be going into space just like her. After the explosion I was distraught. From this I learned to never wish to be someone else. Make the best of the life you have.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan71

      Absolutely right. You hit the nail on the head Christa. I remember where I was when this happened, a freshman in high school. I originally thought it was someone's idea of a sick joke until I saw the word 'Live' in the lower corner then the reality of it hit me.
      Wishing you were someone else only serves to make you feel less than you are. If you really could be someone else, it would erase all the good that you did and the impact (good or bad) you had on others' lives. Be grateful that you are still looking down at the ground instead of looking up at it.

      January 29, 2011 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
  13. David

    I was in 3rd grade and remember the shock and silence of the classroom when it happened.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. Philip

    Sad the Callenger crew was lost to be sure. Still missing from these post's is an accounting of how the shuttle program helped solve the enormous problems facing humanity.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Philip's Mom

      Please excuse my son Philip, he lives in my basement with his only friend, his computer and doesn't get out much. You would think someone who uses the internet as much as he does would be able to look up all of the things NASA has contributed to the world but apparently my son isn't very bright either.

      January 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Gene

    The thing that ticked me off about the reporting of the tragedy was the fact that all the focus was on the teacher. The media acted as though the other passengers didn't even matter. Even today, when that disaster is mentioned, Christa McAuliffe is the name that you hear most associated with the flight. Maybe it's just me, but I think that's a slap in the face to the family members of the rest of the crew. How many people would even recognize the names of the other crew members? My bet goes with none. And you can thank our responsible and sensitive media for that.

    January 29, 2011 at 9:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Goodadvice

      That happened because she was a civilian. The others were astronauts and she was a school teacher that basically won the chance to be on the flight. If a group of firefighters had been caught in an explosion on live tv in an event that was watched nationally and one of them was a middle school kid that just happened to have won a special school lottery to hold the water hose that day, the attention would probably be focused on the kid.

      January 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
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