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In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

In this photo from Jan. 9, 1986, the Challenger crew takes a break during countdown training at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.

Space flight is so routine now that we often forget just how dangerous it really is. On January 28, 1986, 30 years ago on this date, five astronauts and two mission specialists lost their lives when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, a mere 73 seconds after liftoff. Hot gasses escape from the right solid rocket booster, compromising the bracing between the SRB’s and the main fuel tank and cutting a hole into that tank. Aerodymics did the rest, and the Challenger launch vehicle exploded in mid-air.  The shuttle itself was not designed with an escape mechanism should anything go wrong. It hit the ocean with a force of impact far harder than any human could survive.

The explosion was due to an engineering fault in the O ring seals in the solid rocket boosters; the  opening lip faced upwards instead of downwards, allowing ice to form in the interface between segments and forcing the joints apart with disastrous consequences. The makers of the SRB’s, Thiokol, had warned NASA that there was a potential design flaw that could manifest itself at temperatures under 40°F. It was 18° the day of the launch.

This documentary, posted by YouTube channel Heli, shows what happened.

All seven crew members were killed: Commander Dick Scobee, Pilot Mike Smith, Mission Specialist 1 Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist 2 Judy Resnik, Mission Specialist 3 Ron McNair, Payload Specialist 1 Christa McAuliffe, and Payload Specialist 2 Greg Jarvis.

On this day we remember the lost crew of the Challenger, and salute their courage with a mixture of both sorrow at the loss of these remarkable men and women, and pride that we can count them among our number as human beings.

Rest in peace, Challenger crew. We will never forget.

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