The Terrifying End of the Space Shuttle Challenger Breaks Apart on Live TV

In the morning of January 28, 1986 solid-fuel boosters and RS-25 engines roared on the territory of the Kennedy Space Center. This sound marked the 25th launch of the Space Shuttle system. The reusable ship Challenger rose into the cloudless sky with a crew of seven astronauts on board.
Despite the generally routine nature of the mission, this flight was considered interesting for several reasons. First, one of its participants was schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who won the Teacher in Space competition (more than 11,000 people took part). She had a mission to conduct several televised lessons when the shuttle was in orbit. And secondly, the Challenger was launched only 16 days after the previous space shuttle. It was a new record. NASA has come close to such a desirable goal as launching shuttles into space at intervals of a couple of weeks.
Unfortunately, all that was not the reason why the STS-51L mission went down in history. In the 73rd second of the flight, when Challenger was at an altitude of 15 km, it suddenly turned into a huge fireball. The launch was broadcast live, so all viewers learned about the tragedy immediately.
The disaster had huge consequences for both the Space Shuttle program and all of American astronautics, forever dividing it into “before” and “after”.
The cause of the disaster was the failure of the two redundant O-ring seals in a joint in the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster (SRB). The record-low temperatures of the launch reduced the elasticity of the rubber O-rings, reducing their ability to seal the joints. Shortly after liftoff, the seals were breached, and hot pressurized gas from within the SRB leaked and burned through the aft attachment strut connecting it to the external propellant tank (ET). This caused the booster to rotate, pushing its upper end into the ET, causing the inner structures of the tank to collapse and disintegrate. Its contents vaporized and exploded, and both SRBs detached and continued to fly uncontrolled until the range safety officer destroyed them. The orbiter, traveling at Mach 1.92, was torn apart by aerodynamic forces as a result of rapid deceleration.
The crew compartment and many other fragments from the shuttle were recovered from the ocean floor after a three-month search-and-recovery operation. The exact timing of the deaths of the crew is unknown, but several crew members are thought to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. By design, the orbiter had no escape system, and the impact of the crew compartment at terminal velocity with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.
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