AstroTalk Episode January 28, 2016

Space Shuttle Challenger

3:01pm - 3:29pm

30 years ago, on January 28, 1986 NASA experienced one of its worst setbacks when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in ruins, only 73 seconds after lift-off. A faulty O-Ring was determined to be at fault, but engineers had warned NASA of safety concerns with the O-Rings. Challenger was also launched when the outside temperature was 41 degrees Fahrenheit, 9 degrees below the established safe operating temperature of 50 degrees. Engineers had issued warnings about the dangers of operating below 50 degrees, but these warnings, like the warnings about the O-Rings, were disregarded and not passed on to top NASA officials. The Challenger disaster grounded the space shuttle program for 32 months. Human space flight was more common in the last quarter of the 21st century, and even though humankind is now experiencing a golden age in Astronomy, nothing could match the excitement of the human space missions of the last century. After the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas upon re-entry on a February 1, 2003 flight, the Space Shuttle program was grounded again. Even though NASA suffered setbacks on these 2 Space Shuttle missions, the Space Shuttle program operated 135 missions from 1981 - 2011, and returned some of the best science of our time . This show talks about how the projected benefits of operating a reusable low-Earth orbit space vehicle clashed with the realities of how difficult it became to maintain the fleet of 5 space shuttles. During each launch, 1 million things had to go right, but only 1 thing, like underestimating the problems that could be caused by 1 faulty O-Ring, could lead to disasters like Challenger and Columbia. The Space Shuttle program was nevertheless one of NASA's final accomplishments, and from them, a myriad of astronomy buffs grew out of the skies.