Space Shuttle Disasters
With the dangers of space flight, it was expected that the history of the space shuttle program would include some tragedies before its time had expired. As of the writing on this article the only two disasters to befall the shuttle, however, resulted in the deaths of both crews.
On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger was destroyed after 73 seconds of flight following takeoff. It was found that a seal in the solid rocket booster failed during liftoff, causing hot gases to damage the external fuel tank. Ultimately, this caused structural failure which resulted in the deaths of the seven crew members and the destruction of the orbiter. One of the major tragedies of the event was the death of Christa McAuliffe, who was to be the first teacher in space. Due to her presence aboard the vehicle, school children across America witnessed one of the greatest catastrophes to befall NASA in real-time. According to a NASA survey, 85 percent of the nation knew of the event within one hour.
On February 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed upon reentry after a successful mission into space. After investigation, it was found that a piece of foam from the external fuel tank broke away and impacted the orbiter during takeoff. Essentially, the flight was doomed from the start. In light of this event, a system of faulty safety procedures was exposed throughout the organization, prompting a new level of awareness within NASA. In addition, the disaster also was the deciding factor in the planned retirement of the program.
Throughout the history of the space shuttle program, the men and women who took part in the missions joined the ranks of legendary astronauts through both triumph and tragedy. For all of its flaws and costs, the three decades of missions undertaken by the space shuttles were amongst some of the most harrowing in all of NASA's history. It allowed the journey into space to become a routine event that could focus on less-expensive and more standardized tasks with long-term ramifications for space exploration and human history.
Above left: Challenger Explosion. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/Challenger_explosion.jpg)
Above right: STS-107 Reentry. (Supplied by NASA; Public Domain; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/Challenger_explosion.jpg)