As most of us know, this week marks a week of NASA which the program is not to pround of. On January 27th, 1967, the 3 person crew of Apollo 1 died in a fire without ever leaving the Earth, as it occured on a practice run at the pad. On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger went up into a ball of flames after 73 seconds of flight, taking with it its crew of 7 brave men and women, including school teacher Christa McAuliffe. On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia, NASA’s oldest shuttle, burned up on re-entry taking its crew of seven with it.
All of these happening within 6 days of each other, although occuring in different years. Regardless, it is sad how we lost 17 brave people who had committed themselves to furthering the exploration of space and showing bravery to help try and better our understanding of us and our place in the universe. But, what have we done to honor these crews?
After Apollo 1, NASA had to completely re-think their design of the Apollo crew capsule and the hazards of a 100% oxygen-rich environment. As many people in America doubted the safety and plausibility of getting to the moon, another fear spread throughout the nation of how the Russians and the USSR would completely defeat us in our space race. NASA saw this differently. They did not let White, Grissom, and Chaffe’s death and rebounded full speed, proving the country wrong, and probably saving many more lives by making the capsule design smarter and safer. These lessons have also been used on every single space mission since.
Challenger was a huge blow to the nation. Space shuttle travel seemed so routine that the public lost interest in the program entirely. They figured they needed a way to gain interest in the program again, which they did by starting the teacher in space program, where over 11,000 teachers applied to be the first teacher in space. The winner was Christa McAuliffe, a social studies teacher. NASA was right, it did gain public interest, but it might’ve been the wrong time to do so.
After numerous delays for weather, crosswinds, and landing abort sites, engineers had the daunting task of deciding whether or not to launch in the unseasonably cold temperatures of that January day. Going against the recommendation of Morton-Thiakol, who produced the Solid Rocket Boosters, or SRBs, advised against it because of the possibility of an O-ring malfunction which would be deadly. The heads of the company overruled this decision and launched anyway, which indeed proved to be deadly and a national tragedy. Since then, NASA has been stricter on its launch constraints for temerpature, and have tightened the means of communications on whether to go or not go for launch of a mission. The disaster also spawned Challenger Centers, which continue the teaching mission and are now educating our future generation, our children, about space and how great it is and how useful science and math is to all future generations.
Lastly, the space shuttle Columbia, who flew the first shuttle mission of STS-1 back in 1981, launched on what looked like a perfect launch to the naked eye. However, as high speed cameras would later show, a piece of foam fell off of the external fuel tank. Many engineers after reviewing the launch footage felt that it could be a threat and even arranged for satellite images of the leading edge of the wing that was hit to be examined closer. Figuring it would be a waste of money, time, and resources, NASA vetoed that option, and even joked about it with the crew, who were oblivious to the giant hole punctured in their wing.
As they re-entered the atmosphere, the temperatures became so hot, and they seeped through that whole in the wing, causing the vehicle to break up, killing its crew of 7. True, this showed a lapse in management, but at the same time, it showed how dangerous the current shuttle launch design is. It lead to the initative of a new spacecraft (whatever that may be and whenever it may come out) and also designed new examination tools to look at the heat shield of the shuttle, including the Rendezvous Pitch Maneuver, or the backflip.
Overall, these accidents were all a tragedy and were all horrible, yet had they never happened, we would have most likely had more accidents in the wings just waiting to happen. From each of these came a safety boost, and bettered our space program as a whole, and I think these crews need to be remembered for the contributions they have unknowingly made to the future of the space program.