The Challenger explosion happened 25 years ago today. Before the Challenger explosion, the mission was considered a PR victory for NASA. After all, they were launching the first school teacher in space, and were broadcasting her launch live on TV. A decade after the moon landings ended, NASA appeared set to get another big boost in popularity. Instead, Challenger turned into the greatest nightmare in NASA history since the Apollo 1 fire.
On Jan. 28, 1986, seven astronauts prepared for a routine launch into space. One of them was newcomer Christa McAuliffe, who was the main attraction of the morning. She was not a traditional astronaut, but rather a school teacher who won her way onto the shuttle.
Before the explosion, few really thought that such a tragedy would be possible. Despite the Apollo 1 fire, and the Apollo 13 ordeal, having a shuttle actually blow up in the air seemed unlikely. That possibility was far from everyone’s mind 25 years ago, as a national audience was set to celebrate McAuliffe’s launch.
Once the shuttle took off, the script followed just as planned, with audiences cheering their way off. But things started to go wrong a minute later, and then disaster struck live on television. The shuttle went down 73 seconds after the launch, as it became obvious there would be no survivors.
All of a sudden, the Challenger explosion became the greatest tragedy in NASA history. The fact that it was aired live on TV, after so much hype over McAuliffe, only amplified the impact. As such, everyone who was old enough on Jan. 28, 1986, knows where they were on that day, and most likely saw it happen on television.
In a bitter irony, the second shuttle to ever come apart after launch disintegrated on Feb. 1, 2003. Just after the 17th anniversary of Challenger, Columbia broke apart in re-entry, which put NASA under fire once again.
Before the Challenger explosion, NASA had been able to rebound effectively from tragedy. Despite the Apollo 1 fire, the agency recovered and finally put man on the moon. The Apollo 13 disaster turned into an uplifting story when the crew was finally saved. Yet on Jan. 28, 1986, there would be no miracle rescue or quick recovery.
Today, the risks of space travel are much clearer, even though it continues on. However, NASA would never recover the popularity it had before Challenger, or even in the immediate aftermath. Next to the moon landings and Apollo 13, NASA and space travel may be best defined by the nationally televised tragedy 25 years ago.
USA TODAY- “How the Challenger disaster brought NASA down to earth”
FOX News- “City Still Mourning 25 Years After Challenger Explosion”