Challenger Explosion Remembered 33 Years After Space Shuttle Tragedy

Aubrey Gemignani / NASAGetty Images

On January 28, 1986, 33 years ago, the space shuttle Challenger tragically exploded just 73 seconds into its flight while being broadcast live on televisions across America. Today, America remembers the seven passengers who were killed on board: Commander Dick Scobee, Gregory Jarvis, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, co-pilot Michael J. Smith, and Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space.

The flight was meant to bring McAuliffe to space as part of NASA’s Teacher in Space Project designed to inspire students and honor educators, CBS Miami reported. Children all over the country sat in classrooms that day to watch the mission take off, only for disaster to unfold right before their eyes. CNN, a little-known 24-hour news channel at the time, covered the launch live.

The Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds into its flight over the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of central Florida, due to a booster engine failure. The seven passengers were killed instantly.

“We’ve never had a tragedy like this. And perhaps we’ve forgotten the courage it took for the crew of the shuttle; but they, the Challenger Seven, were aware of the dangers, but overcame them and did their jobs brilliantly. We mourn seven heroes,” President Ronald Reagan said in an address to the nation that day.

Their mission, called the STS-51-L, was the Challenger’s 10th flight and the 25th flight of the space shuttle program. So, what was the difference this time that caused the disaster to occur? The weather conditions were likely the primary reason for the failure, according to Yahoo.

It was especially chilly in Florida that day, with record-setting temperatures bottoming out at 20 degrees Fahrenheit hours before the launch. It was the lowest temperature ever for a space shuttle launch, and significantly lower than the coast of Florida’s typical winter temperature of 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident explained that the temperature may have caused ice to form on the engine’s joints and ultimately led to the explosion, according to WTSP.

Today, people are taking to social media to pay tribute to the lost crew members and recall where they were when the tragedy occurred.

“I didn’t watch it live, but the class next door did. Watching those 7th graders pour out of class in tears when the bell rang was surreal,” one user said.

“Remembering Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger astronauts lost 33 years ago today. New Hampshire remains inspired by the remarkable social studies teacher from Concord High and her fellow crew members,” another wrote.