Challenger in orbit in 1983, during STS-7
|Type||Space Shuttle orbiter|
|Contract award||January 1, 1979|
|Named after||HMS Challenger (1858)|
|Status||Destroyed January 28, 1986|
April 4–9, 1983
January 28, 1986
|No. of missions||10|
|Days spent in space||62 days 07:56:22|
|No. of orbits||995|
|Distance travelled||25,803,939 mi (41,527,414 km)|
Space Shuttle Challenger (Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099) was the second orbiter of NASA's Space Shuttle program to be put into service, after Columbia. Challenger was built by Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division, in Downey, California. Its maiden flight, STS-6, began on April 4, 1983. The orbiter was launched and landed nine times before disintegrating 73 seconds into its tenth mission, STS-51-L, on January 28, 1986, resulting in the deaths of all seven crew members including a civilian school teacher.
Challenger was the first of two orbiters that were destroyed in flight, followed by Columbia in 2003. The Challenger accident led to a two-and-a-half-year grounding of the shuttle fleet; flights resumed in 1988, with STS-26 flown by Discovery. Challenger was replaced by Endeavour, which was built from structural spares ordered by NASA in the construction contracts for Discovery and Atlantis.
Challenger was named after HMS Challenger, a British corvette that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition, a pioneering global marine research expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876. The Apollo 17 Lunar Module, which landed on the Moon in 1972, was also named Challenger.
Because of the low production volume of orbiters, the Space Shuttle program decided to build a vehicle as a Structural Test Article, STA-099, that could later be converted to a flight vehicle. The contract for STA-099 was awarded to North American Rockwell on July 26, 1972, and construction was completed in February 1978. After STA-099's rollout, it was sent to a Lockheed test site in Palmdale, where it spent over 11 months in vibration tests designed to simulate entire shuttle flights, from launch to landing. To prevent damage during structural testing, qualification tests were performed to a safety factor of 1.2 times the design limit loads. The qualification tests were used to validate computational models, and compliance with the required 1.4 factor of safety was shown by analysis. STA-099 was essentially a complete airframe of a Space Shuttle orbiter, with only a mockup crew module installed and thermal insulation placed on its forward fuselage.
NASA planned to refit the prototype orbiter Enterprise (OV-101), used for flight testing, as the second operational orbiter; but Enterprise lacked most of the systems needed for flight, including a functional propulsion system, thermal insulation, a life support system, and most of the cockpit instrumentation. Modifying it for spaceflight was considered to be too difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Since STA-099 was not as far along in the construction of its airframe, it would be easier to upgrade to a flight article. Because STA-099's qualification testing prevented damage, NASA found that rebuilding STA-099 as a flight worthy orbiter would be less expensive than refitting Enterprise. Work on converting STA-099 to operational status began in January 1979, starting with the crew module (the pressurized portion of the vehicle), as the rest of the vehicle was still being used for testing by Lockheed. STA-099 returned to the Rockwell plant in November 1979, and the original, unfinished crew module was replaced with the newly constructed model. Major parts of STA-099, including the payload bay doors, body flap, wings, and vertical stabilizer, also had to be returned to their individual subcontractors for rework. By early 1981, most of these components had returned to Palmdale to be reinstalled. Work continued on the conversion until July 1982, when the new orbiter was rolled out as Challenger.
Challenger, as did the orbiters built after it, had fewer tiles in its Thermal Protection System than Columbia, though it still made heavier use of the white LRSI tiles on the cabin and main fuselage than did the later orbiters. Most of the tiles on the payload bay doors, upper wing surfaces, and rear fuselage surfaces were replaced with DuPont white Nomex felt insulation. These modifications and an overall lighter structure allowed Challenger to carry 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) more payload than Columbia. Challenger's fuselage and wings were stronger and lighter than Columbia's. The hatch and vertical-stabilizer tile patterns were different from those of the other orbiters. Challenger was the first orbiter to have a head-up display system for use in the descent phase of a mission, and the first to feature Phase I main engines rated for 104% maximum thrust.
|1972 July 26||Contract Award to North American Rockwell|
|1975 November 21||Start structural assembly of crew module|
|1976 June 14||Start structural assembly of aft fuselage.|
|1977 March 16||Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman|
|1977 September 30||Start of Final Assembly|
|1978 February 10||Completed Final Assembly|
|1978 February 14||Rollout from Palmdale|
|1979 January 5||Contract Award to Rockwell International, Space Transportation Systems Division|
|1979 January 28||Start structural assembly of crew module|
|1980 November 3||Start of Final Assembly|
|1981 October 23||Completed Final Assembly|
|1982 June 30||Rollout from Palmdale|
|1982 July 1||Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards|
|1982 July 5||Delivery to KSC|
|1982 December 18||Flight Readiness Firing (FRF)|
|1983 April 4||First Flight (STS-6)|
|1986 January 28||Disintegration (STS-51-L)|
After its first flight in April 1983, Challenger flew on 85% of all Space Shuttle missions. Even when the orbiters Discovery and Atlantis joined the fleet, Challenger flew three missions a year from 1983 to 1985. Challenger, along with Discovery, was modified at Kennedy Space Center to be able to carry the Centaur-G upper stage in its payload bay. If flight STS-51-L had been successful, Challenger's next mission would have been the deployment of the Ulysses probe with the Centaur to study the polar regions of the Sun.
Challenger flew the first American woman, African-American, Dutchman, and Canadian into space; carried three Spacelab missions; and performed the first night launch and night landing of a Space Shuttle.
In mid 1985, President Reagan tasked NASA mission managers that the orbiter Challenger would be selected to fly the upcoming STS-51-L mission (the orbiter's tenth and final flight in her career), initially planned to launch on January 26, 1986 (after several technical and paperwork delays). This mission attracted huge media attention, as one of the crew was a civillian schoolteacher - Christa McAuliffe, who was assigned to carry out live lectures from the orbiter (as part of NASA's Teacher in Space Project) while other members deploy the TDRS satellite and conduct Comet observations.
However in late January 1986, engineers at Kennedy Space Center encounctered several technical and weather delays. Frustration ensued with managers, especially after what would have normally been a perfectly good launch opportunity on January 27 (but was scrubbed due to a jammed access-hatch door handle). Media and public relations pressure resulted in managers overuling safety concerns from engineers with launching the mission the next day (January 28); as an unusual cold wave drifted over the Kennedy Space Center, resulting in the solid rocket booster o-ring joints freezing up, compromising its function.
Challenger blasted off at 11:38 am EST on January 28, 1986. Just over a minute into the flight, the faulty booster joint opened up, leading to a flame that melted securing struts which resulted in a catastrophic structural failure and explosion of the External Tank. The resulting pressure waves and aerodynamic forces destroyed the orbiter, resulting in the loss of all the crew.
Challenger was the first Space Shuttle to be destroyed in a mission accident. The collected debris of the vessel is currently buried in decommissioned missile silos at Launch Complex 31, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A section of the fuselage recovered from Space Shuttle Challenger can also be found at the "Forever Remembered" memorial at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Debris from the orbiter sometimes wash up on the Florida coast. This is collected and transported to the silos for storage. Because of its early loss, Challenger was the only Space Shuttle that never wore the NASA "meatball" logo, and was never modified with the MEDS "glass cockpit". The tail was never fitted with a drag chute, which was fitted to the remaining orbiters in 1992. Challenger and sister ship Columbia are the only two shuttles that never visited the Mir Space Station or the International Space Station. In September 2020 Netflix released Challenger: The Final Flight, a four-part miniseries produced by J. J. Abrams documenting the tragedy firsthand.
In March 1988 the federal government and Morton Thiokol Inc. agreed to pay $7.7 million in cash and annuities to the families of four of the seven Challenger astronauts as part of a settlement aimed at avoiding lawsuits in the nation's worst space disaster, according to government documents. The documents show that Morton Thiokol, which manufactured the faulty solid rocket boosters blamed for the accident, paid 60 percent, or $4,641,000. The remainder, $3,094,000, was paid by the government.
In September 1988 a federal judge dismissed two lawsuits seeking $3 billion from Space Shuttle rocket-maker Morton Thiokol Inc. by Roger Boisjoly, a former company engineer who warned against the ill-fated 1986 Challenger launch.
|Challenger's rollout from Orbiter Processing
Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
|Challenger while in service as structural test article STA-099.|
|#||Date||Designation||Launch pad||Landing location||Notes||Mission duration|
|1||April 4, 1983||STS-6||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Deployed TDRS-A.
First spacewalk during a Space Shuttle mission.
|5 days, 00 hours, 23 minutes, 42 seconds|
|2||June 18, 1983||STS-7||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space.
Deployed two communications satellites, including Anik C2.
|6 days, 02 hours, 23 minutes, 59 seconds|
|3||August 30, 1983||STS-8||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Guion Bluford becomes first African-American in space
||6 days, 01 hours, 08 minutes, 43 seconds|
|4||February 3, 1984||STS-41-B||LC-39A||Kennedy Space Center||First untethered spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit.
||7 days, 23 hours, 15 minutes, 55 seconds|
|5||April 6, 1984||STS-41-C||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Solar Maximum Mission service mission.||6 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes, 07 seconds|
|6||October 5, 1984||STS-41-G||LC-39A||Kennedy Space Center||First mission to carry two women.
||8 days, 05 hours, 23 minutes, 33 seconds|
|7||April 29, 1985||STS-51-B||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Carried Spacelab-3.||7 days, 00 hours, 08 minutes, 46 seconds|
|8||July 29, 1985||STS-51-F||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Carried Spacelab-2.
Only STS mission to abort after launch.
|7 days, 22 hours, 45 minutes, 26 seconds|
|9||October 30, 1985||STS-61-A||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Carried German Spacelab D-1.
Wubbo Ockels becomes the first Dutchman in space
|7 days, 00 hours, 44 minutes, 51 seconds|
|10||January 28, 1986||STS-51-L||LC-39B||(planned to land at Kennedy Space Center).||Shuttle disintegrated after launch, killing all seven astronauts on board. Would have deployed TDRS-B.||0 days, 00 hours, 01 minute, 13 seconds|
|Mission insignia for Challenger flights|
* Mission canceled due to loss of Challenger on STS-51-L.
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Space Shuttle Challenger.|