Space Shuttle Challenger disaster
When the United States Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after takeoff on January 28, 1986, it was the worst United States space disaster up to that point, in that it was the first U.S. in-space disaster resulting in multiple human deaths.
The crew of National Aeronautics and Space Administration mission STS-51 comprised seven astronauts, including one civilian "space participant", the much-celebrated schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe. All were killed.
There were extensive investigations into the cause of the disaster and the deaths of the astronauts. The U.S. space shuttle program was suspended for over two years.
The crew were:
- Francis "Dick" Scobee, Commander
- Michael J. Smith, Pilot
- Judith Resnik, Mission Specialist
- Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
- Ronald McNair, Mission Specialist
- Gregory Jarvis, Payload Specialist
- Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Spaceflight Participant (Teacher in Space Program)
Physically, the disaster was caused by a failure of a sealing ring on a solid rocket booster, which caused extremely hot exhaust to burn into the main rocket engines. That "O-ring" seal, however, was embrittled by cold weather; NASA management, eager to keep their schedule, had insisted on launching on a cold day, over engineering objections.
An extensive investigation was reviewed by the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident. The failures in NASA processes that led to this tragedy are now a classic case study for engineers, who may face a great ethical dilemma when their job might be lost due to exposing bad news that would result in undesired delays.