Research, Technology

What caused the Challenger spacecraft to explode and where is its wreckage

In January 1986, one of the mostmajor disasters in the history of astronautics. At 73 seconds into flight, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded along with a crew consisting of a network of astronauts. The start of the mission was televised, so this horrific moment stuck in the minds of millions. The wreckage of the spacecraft and the bodies of the crew members fell into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean - the participants in the search and rescue operation managed to find a cabin with people and some fragments of the Challenger ship, but far from everything was found. Recently, during the filming of a documentary, divers found a pile of metal at the bottom of the ocean, which turned out to be the largest fragment of the infamous spaceship. Perhaps now is the right time to remember this disaster and learn about it previously unknown details.

The Space Shuttle Challenger moments before the explosion

Space Mission STS-51L

The crash of the Space Shuttle Challengerhappened as part of the STS-51L mission. During the 25th flight of the Space Shuttle program, the crew of seven was supposed to launch the TDRS satellite into low Earth orbit, observe Halley's comet, and also conduct several lessons for schoolchildren - the astronauts had a lot to do.

Launch of the STS-51L mission

Unfortunately, none of these tasks werecompleted. The STS-51L mission was the first for the United States, in which the astronauts were not even able to go into near-Earth space. Already at 73 seconds after the launch, an explosion thundered in the sky and the spacecraft collapsed. Its wreckage, along with the cabin for the crew members, fell into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean at a speed of about 333 kilometers per hour.

Explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger

During the fall, at least three astronautskept alive thanks to the air supply system. However, the ship was not equipped with an abort system, so all crew members died in the end.

The victims of the Challenger crash were:

  • Commander Francis Scobee;
  • pilot Michael Smith;
  • flight specialists Allison Onizuka, Judith Resnick and Ronald McNair;
  • payload specialists Christa McAuliffe and Gregory Jarvis.

Crew members of the STS-51L mission

The cabin of the "shuttle" with the bodies of the astronauts wasdiscovered in the Atlantic Ocean on March 7, two months after the crash. The exact causes of death of the STS-51L crew members could not be determined, because sea water severely damaged their bodies.

Americans on the Moon: what should everyone know?

Cause of the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion

The investigation showed that the spacecraftexploded due to damage to an o-ring in the spacecraft's booster. The ring was damaged due to the formation of a layer of ice on it the day before the launch. Due to the absence of this element, a hole formed in the side of the accelerator - the jet stream began to hit the external fuel tank. Contrary to popular belief, there was no explosion, because the fuel simply caught fire, and the ship's hull fell apart. The cabin with people was much stronger than the spacecraft, but during the fall it lost its tightness. Given the lack of an escape system, the crew members of the STS-51L mission had no chance of surviving.

32 months after the disaster, the shuttle program was closed.

Retrieval of debris from the Space Shuttle Challenger

Part of the Challenger's equipment, raised from the depths of the ocean

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The wreckage of the Space Shuttle Challenger

Some parts of the spacecraft were found and are currently the property of the United States. One of the debris is on display today in a special complex on the grounds of the Kennedy Space Center.

It would seem that 36 years have passed since the disaster,and she is rarely mentioned. However, recently it has made itself felt - off the coast of the US state of Florida, divers discovered another, the largest fragment of the Challenger. The length of the found fragment of the spacecraft is as much as 6 meters. The discovery was made during the filming of a program about the Bermuda Triangle.

Frame from a documentary in which divers found a fragment of a spaceship

According to researcher Mike Barnett, the film crew quickly realized what kind of pile of metal it was and contacted NASA representatives - they confirmed their guess.

Although it has been almost 37 years since the sevenbrave and courageous explorers died aboard the Challenger, this tragedy will forever remain in the collective memory of our country. For millions of people around the world, including myself, January 28, 1986 still feels like yesterday,” said NASA CEO Bill Nelson.

Details of the discovery will reportedly be revealed in Bermuda Triangle: Into Damned Waters, which airs on November 22 on the History Channel.

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The Challenger crash is not the only major disaster in the space industry. You can find out about other accidents in the material of my colleague Andrey Zhukov - here is the link.