THUNDER BAY – “Challenger – Go with throttle up”… with that command the space shuttle Challenger’s time ended.
The Challenger blew up due to a faulty O-Ring that cold weather caused to fail. The crew onboard the Challenger did not survive the explosion.
United States President Ronald Reagan said that day, “The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them.”
In the late 1970s, NASA strived for a lighter weight orbiter, but a test vehicle was needed to ensure the lighter airframe could handle the stress of space flight. Computer software at the time wasn’t yet advanced enough to accurately predict how STA-099’s new, optimized design would respond to intense heat and stress. The best solution was to submit the vehicle to a year of intensive vibration and thermal testing.
In early 1979, NASA awarded Space Shuttle orbiter manufacturer Rockwell a contract to convert STA-099 to a space-rated orbiter, OV-099. The vehicle’s conversion began late that year. Although the job was easier than it would have been to convert NASA’s first orbiter, Enterprise, it was a major process that involved the disassembly and replacement of many parts and components.
The second orbiter to join NASA’s Space Shuttle fleet, OV-099 arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in July 1982, bearing the name “Challenger.”
Space Shuttle orbiter Challenger was named after the British Naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870s. The Apollo 17 lunar module also carried the name of Challenger. Like its historic predecessors, Challenger and her crews made significant scientific contributions in the spirit of exploration.
Challenger launched on her maiden voyage, STS-6, on April 4, 1983. That mission saw the first spacewalk of the Space Shuttle program, as well as the deployment of the first satellite in the Tracking and Data Relay System constellation. The orbiter launched the first American woman, Sally Ride, into space on mission STS-7 and was the first to carry two U.S. female astronauts on mission STS 41-G.
The first orbiter to launch and land at night on mission STS-8, Challenger also made the first Space Shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center, concluding mission STS 41-B. Spacelabs 2 and 3 flew aboard the ship on missions STS 51-F and STS 51-B, as did the first German-dedicated Spacelab on STS 61-A. A host of scientific experiments and satellite deployments were performed during Challenger’s missions.
Challenger’s service to America’s space program ended in tragedy on Jan. 28, 1986. Just 73 seconds into mission STS 51-L, a booster failure caused an explosion that resulted in the loss of seven astronauts, as well as the vehicle.