Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster

It was on the twenty eight of January, 1986 that the American space shuttle, Challenger, exploded in the air, killing the seven astronauts, five men and two women who were on board the shuttle. The shuttle had taken off from Cape Canaveral in Florida, just minutes before, and the entire episode was telecast to the nation, and thousands of people, including the victims' families, were forced to witness first hand the disaster while it was taking place. This in itself was a tragedy of immense proportions, and to add to the disaster, rescue boast could not even reach the scene of the tragedy for more than an hour, because there was falling debris from the shuttle, and the rescue personnel could not get close to it. President Ronald Reagan had this to say, "...a national loss." (1986, seven dead in space shuttle disaster) it must be remembered that the Challenger was the twenty fifth flight by that of a shuttle, and it had been delayed already due to bad weather conditions. Initially, the shuttle had been scheduled to take off on the twenty second of January, but adverse conditions like icicles and high winds prevented the shuttle from launching off on this date. (1986, seven dead in space shuttle disaster)

On the twenty eight, according to NASA officials, for whom apparently, the safety conditions are of paramount importance, there had been no real pressure to launch the shuttle on this date, but unfortunately for the people on board, this was the day that had been chosen for the Challenger to be launched, and it never did take off. The shuttle crew was led by Commander Dick Scobee, forty six years old. Christa McAuliffe, married with two children was a thirty-seven-year-old teacher, and had been chosen from among ten thousand other entrants to the competition that promised the entrants their first expedition into space. She was supposed to be the very first school teacher to be aboard a space shuttle, and there was great excitement about this event in her life. In her own words before the scheduled launch of the challenger, "One of the things I hope to bring back into the classroom is to make that connection with the students that they too are part of history, the space programme belongs to them and to try to bring them up with the space age." (1986, seven dead in space shuttle disaster)

It was the teacher Mc Auliffe's assignment, that of teaching young school children from space, that probably gave the Challenger a very special aura. This was probably the reason why the space shuttle, officially known as the 'Space Transportation System -- STS Mission 51-L', became popularly known among the people of America as the 'teacher in Space Mission'. (Vaughan, 27) This, despite the fact that this was to be a research and scientific missions, and several other members of the team to be launched into space had specific assignments to be carried out while on board the Challenger. There was a series of false starts, as mentioned earlier: the date first set was to be January 23, after which the date slipped to January 25 and then again to January 26. The efforts for the successful launch of the Challenger were carried out by an expert team of people form the Kennedy Space Center, Canaveral, Florida, and these people were coordinated by a team made up of technical coordinators and administrators belonging to NASA's four tiered launch decision chain. These were some of the people thus involved: Jesse Moore, the Associate Administrator for the Space Flight at the NASA Headquarters in Washington; Arnold Aldrich, the Program manager at the Johnson Space Center, Texas; William Lucas, the Director of the Marshall Space flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama and Stanley Reinatrz, Manager at the Shuttle Projects Office, Marshall and a few others. (Vaughan, 27)

One must remember that the space shuttle had set a precedent for unprecedented delays of launch, and none of the individuals involved wished to repeat the same mistake again. This was the reason why bad weather was indicated at Kennedy Airport, the launch on January 23 of the Challenger was put off to the next day. On January 27, the countdown was proceeding at a normal pace, and it appeared that the Challenger would take off successfully. However, at the time of the countdown, micro switch indicators showed that the exterior hatch-locking mechanism had not been fixed properly. This meant that the launch would have to be delayed in order to be able to fix the latch properly before proceeding. By the time the problem was fixed satisfactorily, the wind velocity had already exceeded the Launch Commit Criteria for allowable crosswinds at the Kennedy Center Runway being used for the launch of the Challenger. Therefore, the launch was scrubbed, and it was rescheduled for take off the next day, January 28 at 9:38 AM EST. (Vaughan, 28)

It was at around 1 PM on January 27 that the NASA personnel charged with the responsibility of the launch of the Challenger started to get worried about the prevailing cold weather conditions. This sort of weather for this time of year in Florida was rare and uncharacteristic, and furthermore, extremely cold weather conditions were predicted for the next day, the launch of the day. Marshall's Larry Wear subsequently asked the manufacturers of the Solid Rocket Motor to check whether the cold weather would in any way affect or impact the performance of the Solid Rocket Motor of the Challenger. Robert Ebeling, the Ignition System manager of Thiokol, the company that manufactured the Rocket Motor, immediately called for a meeting at the Utah plant, where the concerns for the safe launch of the space shuttle in such adverse weather conditions were expressed and discussed. It was decided by those present at the conference that the launch of the Challenger must be delayed until noon of the next day, as against the scheduled launching time of 9:38 AM. (Vaughan, 28)

However, apparently, none of these warning were taken seriously, and the Challenger was launched at the scheduled time and the scheduled date, on the 28 of January at 9:38 AM. What happened next would go down in history as one of the many failures of human kind to launch a space shuttle successfully into space without any mishaps of any kind. (Vaughan, 28) "The Space Shuttle Challenger happened to explode in a ball of fire shortly after it left the launching pad and all seven astronauts on board were lost," so said the headlines of newspapers the next day. (Baura, 63) it would help to remember that the very first time the idea of a space shuttle was floated was some time during the 1960's, much before the Apollo Lunar Landing Spacecraft had been launched. (Baura, 63)

The Challenger disaster has been described, through the years, as the 'collective product of the interaction between a government agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, and a private business corporation, Morton Thiokol, Inc., or MTI. Thus, the space shuttle tragedy falls into the special category of organizational misconduct that Kramer and Michalowski have identified as 'state-corporate crime'. In other words, the Challenger tragedy has been described as a crime committed by a nexus formed by a group of people for whom the launch would have brought in great benefits, had it been carried out successfully. The loss of the Challenger resulted in a loss in profits for the people, and most importantly, resulted in the loss of seven precious lives, whose families were deprived of their husbands and wives and children, of their mothers and fathers. The launch of the Challenger brought about a great tragedy indeed. (Schlegel, Kip; Weisburd, 214)

The Challenger had in fact been involved in nine greatly successful missions before that particular fateful day in January 1986. As a matter of fact, the Shuttle mission 51-L was much the same as all the other missions that had been carried out to date, and this time, the Challenger had been scheduled to carry some cargo, the Tracking Data Relay Satellite-2, or the TDRS-2, and also to fly the Shuttle-Pointed Tool for Astronomy, or what is also known as the SPARTAN-203, the Halley's Comet Experiment Deployable, which is described as a free-flying module that has been specifically designed to observe the tail and the coma of Halley's comet with the help of two ultraviolet spectrometers and two cameras. However, what made this particular space shuttle launch different and unique was that this time, it would carry a teacher on board. This was why the launch became popularly known as the 'Teacher in Space Program'. The teacher, Christa Mc Auliffe, had said with great enthusiasm about the space program of her country, "I watched the Space Age being born and I would like to participate," with the primary aim of tarrying to teach her children from space. (Challenger Disaster, a National Tragedy)

However, the space shuttle had…