31 years later: Remembering the Challenger space shuttle explosi - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

31 years later: Remembering the Challenger space shuttle explosion

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Saturday marks the 31st anniversary on the Challenger space shuttle explosion, a disaster that killed five NASA astronauts and two Payload Specialists 73 seconds after launch.

An O-ring failure blamed on cold weather doomed the shuttle before it even left the launch pad.

Just a few seconds into the mission, a flame was seen breaking through the solid rocket booster that would ultimately lead to the catastrophic explosion that claimed the lives of astronauts Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Gregory Jarvis, Judith Resnick and teacher Christa McAuliffe. Their names were added to the Space Memorial Mirror at the NASA Kennedy Space Center.

The incident resulted in a 32-month suspension of NASA's shuttle program and the creation of the Rogers Commission, a group created by Ronald Reagan to examine what went wrong.

Seventeen percent of Americans watched the tragedy unfold on live television. Many were watching because of crewmember McAuliffe, who would have been the first teacher in space.

Dr. Story Musgrave, a retired NASA astronaut that flew on six shuttle missions, believes the crew was still alive after the blast.

"It's a bang, and then it's a two-minute ride down, and you're conscious. We know that," Musgrave said.

Musgrave said the crew survived in the iconic white cloud seen after the explosion. It was Challenger's fuel tank that exploded. The shuttle itself just broke apart.

"Hundreds of fragments were noted exiting the (external tank) clouds. Those identified included the shuttle main engines, the left wing, crew cabin and both (solid rocket boosters)," a NASA commentator said.

The crew compartment, with it's seven living occupants, was intact.

"The initial path of the crew cabin from the vapor cloud carried it across the path of an adjacent contrail, clearly revealing it's truncated form and attitude. The left wing became visible at 78.531 seconds. The main engines and crew cabin are also identifiable," the commentator said.

It took two minutes and 45 seconds for the crew cabin to hit the water. The impact speed was 207 mph. A statement from the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident indicated the crew probably survived.

"The forces to which the crew were exposed during orbiter breakup were probably not sufficient to cause death or serious injury," the statement indicated. "NASA is unable to determine positively the cause of death of the Challenger astronauts but has established that it is possible, but not certain, that loss of consciousness did occur in the seconds following the orbiter break-up."

Musgrave, who is a medical doctor and surgeon, is quite certain.

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