Fuselage, Space Shuttle Challenger, Challenger Memorial, Atlantis Visitor Center Complex, Kennedy Space Center, September 2015


Space Shuttle Challenger OV-099

The Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L launched on its 10th mission on a frigid morning, January 28, 1986 from Launch Pad 39B. During liftoff, an O-ring seal on one of the vehicle's boosters failed. Pressurized, burning gas from inside the solid rocket motor escaped and damaged hardware that held the right solid rocket booster onto the space craft. The hot gas also burned through the external tank and ignited the propellants inside. Within 73 seconds of launch - 11:39 EST - the shuttle broke apart and all seven crew members died.

Exactly when the crew members died is not known, but several of them survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. The shuttle had no escape system and the impact of the crew compartment was not survivable. The crew compartment and many other vehicle fragments were gradually recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in an extended search and recovery operation.

After the Challenger disaster, there was a 32-month pause in the shuttle program.

Challenger Specs:
Length - 184 ft
Height with landing gear - 57 ft
Wingspan - 78 ft
Gross liftoff weight - 4.5 million lbs
First mission - STS-6, April 4, 1983
Final mission - STS-51L, January 28, 1986
Total missions - 10
Earth Orbits - 995
Miles Travelled - 121,696,993
Total passengers - 60
Time in space - 62 days 07:56:22 hours
Crew members lost on final mission: Francis R. Scobee; Michael J. Smith; Ronald McNair; Ellison Onizuka; Judith Resnik; Gregory Jarvis; Christa McAuliffe

Memphis Barbree