Remembering Space Shuttle Challenger 35 years later; 5 things to know

It has been 35 years since the seven crew members onboard the Space Shuttle Challenger were killed during an explosion shortly after liftoff.

Here are five things to know about the shuttle and the disaster.

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1. Space Shuttle Challenger’s Jan. 28, 1986, launch was its 10th launch. Overall the shuttle, spent 62 days, 7 hours, 56 minutes and 22 seconds in space, CBS News reported, after being first launched in April 1983.

On board were astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Michael Smith, Francis (Dick) Scobee, Ronald McNair and schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, the “Today” show reported.

Scobee was the commander of the mission. His widow still remembers that day and it’s one that she will never forget.

“The media froze our grief in newspapers and TV clips,” June Scobee Rodgers told “Today.” “It was so unbearable.”

But she knew that space travel came with risks.

“We talked about those risks, and he was willing to take those risks,” she remembered.

2. It was initially supposed to be a test vehicle. The building of the shuttle was started by Rockwell Internation in November 1975, then was sent to Lockheed Martin for structural testing in April 1978, Space.com reported.

It went through 11 months of vibration testing on equipment that would simulate all phases of flight.

In 1979, the shuttle was changed from a test vehicle to one that would be used to go to space, joining the fleet with Columbia. For two years, crews retrofitted the shuttle with stronger wings, added a true crew cabin instead of a simulated one and installed new displays. Work on the changes was done in October 1981.

3. Challenger’s first flight was supposed to be on Jan. 20, 1983, but there was a hydrogen leak in the No. 1 main engine aft compartment discovered in December. A second test on Jan. 25, 1983, found cracks in the engine causing leaks. No. 1 engine had to be replaced, but No. 2 and No. 3 were deemed safe, according to Space.com.

Another delay was caused by an issue with a satellite the shuttle was supposed to carry into space, so the first launch for the Challenger was on April 4, 1983.

4. Challenger hosted the first spacewalk for a shuttle on April 7, 1983. It also had the first American female in space, Sally Ride in June 1983, and the first Black astronaut, Guion Bluford, in Aug. 1983, according to Space.com.

It also was the first night launch and the first operational Spacelab flight.

5. The Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch on Jan. 28, 1986. The Florida morning was cold, with temperatures dropping below freezing. Some engineers were worried about the cold and its effects on the seals on the solid rocket boosters. But despite the concerns, it launched with the first teacher to go into space, Christa McAuliffe, who was planning to teach from the shuttle.

A nation and world watched in shock as the shuttle exploded live on their televisions.

“Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously, a major malfunction,” a NASA launch commentator said as pieces of the spacecraft rained down into the ocean.

Hours after the disaster, President Ronald Reagan addressed the nation, saying the crew “ ... slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God.” He also addressed the nation’s schoolchildren who watched the explosion live. He also pledged that the space missions would continue.

Crews salvaged the pieces of the shuttle, which were reassembled for the investigation into what happened. Remains from the seven astronauts were also recovered and what could be identified were returned to their families; the rest were buried at the Challenger Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery on May 20, 1986.

Most of the wreckage was buried and sealed in abandoned Minuteman missile silos at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, according to Space.com. Some of the debris is on display at Kennedy Space Center’s exhibit “Forever Remembered” which not only honors the Challenger, but also the Space Shuttle Columbia.