EXPLOSION OF THE SPACE SHUTTLE CHALLENGER
was NASA's 25th space shuttle mission, and Americans were beginning
to become complacent about the space program.
In an effort to rekindle interest in the space program, NASA brought
on the first civilian in history-a high school social-studies teacher
from Concord, New Hampshire.
America huddled around its TV sets to watch Christa McCauliffe,
a 37-year-old mother ascend into orbit.
73 seconds after takeoff, the Challenger exploded above Kennedy
Space Center in Florida, leaving only its smoky remnants zig zagging
through the sky.
The reason for the explosion was a leaky gasket. Engineers had known
that O-rings sealing the shuttle's booster rockets grew brittle
in the cold. That morning, the thermometer read 36?F. But, the flight
was already six days late, and NASA was becoming impatient.
A presidential panel later charged NASA's managers and the O-rings'
manufacturer with playing "Russian roulette" with the astronaut's
All seven astronauts aboard were killed, and the space program was
grounded for more than two years.