It is hard to believe it has been years ago on this day. Space Shuttle Challenger was launched on a cold morning. Than 73 seconds later it explodes as it is heading into space. To make matters worse, many children watched the space shuttle explode on live television. It was on CNN that time. The reason was that a teacher was on board, Christa McAuliffe. She was the first teacher on board the space shuttle. There were also people watching Challenger racing into space at Kennedy Space Center. January 28, 1986 is a day that anyone who remembers will remember as long as they live, like September 11, 2001. What caused Space Shuttle Challenger to explode? Was weather a factor?
Challenger was originally to be launched on January 22, but due to bad weather. Than it was rescheduled on January 25, but bad weather plagued Dakar, Senegal. Dakar serves as a Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL) if the space shuttle is heading into space and runs into trouble. A lot of things go into play when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is planning to launch space shuttle. It is not just weather at Cape Canaveral. It is also TAL location weather.
A strong cold blast hit the Eastern US in late January 1986. The morning of January 28, 1986 was a cold one. Melbourne and Orlando both recorded 26°F, a record to this day for Melbourne. It was very cold in Florida. It was very cold for Florida and east of the Mississippi River.
To make matters worse, ice accumulated on the launch pad and space shuttle. This is despite the Ice Team cleared ice the night before. The Ice Team did one last inspection and it was declared safe to launch.
However, the O-ring in the Solid Rocket Boosters was damaged from the cold weather. The cold weather weakened the O-ring. Plumes of smoke from the Solid Rocket Boosters shoots as Challenger is launched at 11:38 AM. Aluminum oxide from the heat of the burning propellant sealed the hole where the O-ring was. Had aluminum oxide not form, Challenger would of exploded right at launch. Looks like the aluminum oxide saved Challenger from explosion.
That all changed 37 seconds later, Challenger encounters unusually strong wind shear. The wind shear causes fluctuations and damages the aluminum oxide in the solid rocket boosters. This allowed smoke and fire to shoot out where the O-ring is suppose to be. Than a series of catastrophic events happen 72 seconds after Challenger was launched.
The Solid Rocket Boosters starts to break away from the External Tank as the struts have been broken away. The flames point to the External Tank, which damages it, allowing hydrogen and liquid oxygen to come out. They all ignite and trigger a massive explosion. The massive explosion destroys Challenger with all seven crew members on board. It starts raining debris onto the Atlantic Ocean. Grace and Ed Corrigan watched their daughter, Christa McAuliffe die in the explosion. One cannot fathom the shock and grief they are going through as they watched their daughter die.
A stunned world watches Challenger exploding on television. It was only live on CNN that time, but other networks played Challenger exploding many times. The nation and world grieved for the seven people who died on board Challenger. President Ronald Reagan canceled the State Of The Union speech. He gave a speech addressing a shocked and grieving nation about the Challenger disaster.
What role did weather play in the Challenger disaster? It played a role. The O-ring was weakened by the record cold weather to hit Florida. That weakness was sealed due to the heat only to run into strong wind shear. It was the strongest wind shear encountered by a space shuttle that time. Had Challenger not encountered wind shear, the disaster would probably not have happened.
My verdict, Space Shuttle Challenger should of never been launched on January 28, 1986. The series of weather events played a role from the cold blast to wind shear. Space Shuttle launches have not occurred in cold weather prior to Challenger. Also, the engineers were horrified to see ice build up on the launch pad and space shuttle. That is very telling right there.
Here is a video of Space Shuttle Challenger launch on live television on CNN.