30 years after Challenger, legacies linger

Image: Challenger crew
The crew of the shuttle Challenger takes a break during countdown training on Jan. 9, 1986: From left are space teacher Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Michael Smith and Ellison Onizuka. (NASA photo)

It’s been 30 years since the loss of the shuttle Challenger and its crew on Jan. 28, 1986, but its impact is still being felt – sometimes with sadness, sometimes with hope for the future.

Seven astronauts died when the Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff, due to the failure of an O-ring seal that led to a burn-through in one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. The result was an explosion that flung the orbiter in pieces into the Atlantic Ocean.

The investigation that followed found that the O-ring became brittle at low temperatures, and that the flight should not have launched on that chilly January morning. Investigators learned that “go fever” led mission managers to overrule the engineers who recommended a delay.

The mission’s commander, Dick Scobee, was born in Cle Elum, Wash. Challenger’s other astronauts were Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Greg Jarvis – and Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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