Space Shuttle Challenger

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Space Shuttle Challenger
Challenger is launched on its first mission, STS-6
OV designationOV-099
CountryUnited States
Contract awardJanuary 1, 1979
Named afterHMS Challenger (1858)
StatusDestroyed January 28, 1986
First flightSTS-6
April 4–9, 1983
Last flightSTS-51-L
January 28, 1986
Number of missions10
Time spent in space62 days 07:56:22[1]
Number of orbits995
Distance travelled25,803,939 mi (41,527,414 km)
Satellites deployed10
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Space Shuttle Challenger
Challenger is launched on its first mission, STS-6
OV designationOV-099
CountryUnited States
Contract awardJanuary 1, 1979
Named afterHMS Challenger (1858)
StatusDestroyed January 28, 1986
First flightSTS-6
April 4–9, 1983
Last flightSTS-51-L
January 28, 1986
Number of missions10
Time spent in space62 days 07:56:22[1]
Number of orbits995
Distance travelled25,803,939 mi (41,527,414 km)
Satellites deployed10

Space Shuttle Challenger (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099) was NASA's second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia having been the first. The shuttle was built by Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division in Downey, California. Its maiden flight was on April 4, 1983, and it completed nine missions before breaking apart 73 seconds after the launch of its tenth mission, STS-51-L on January 28, 1986, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. It was the first of two shuttles (the other being Columbia) to be destroyed. The accident led to a two-and-a-half year grounding of the shuttle fleet, with missions resuming in 1988 with the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-26. Challenger itself was replaced by the Space Shuttle Endeavour, which first launched in May 1992 and was constructed from structural spares that had been ordered by NASA as part of the construction contracts for Discovery and Atlantis.


Challenger was named after HMS Challenger, a British corvette that was the command ship for the Challenger Expedition, a pioneering global marine research expedition undertaken from 1872 through 1876.[2] The Apollo 17 lunar module that landed on the Moon in 1972 was also named Challenger.[2]


Challenger being prepared in 1985 for its second-to-last flight STS-61-A

Because of the low production of orbiters, the Space Shuttle program decided to build a vehicle as a Structural Test Article, STA-099, that could later be converted to a flight vehicle. The contract for STA-099 was awarded to North American Rockwell on July 26, 1972, and its construction was completed in February 1978.[3] After STA-099's rollout, it was promptly sent to a Lockheed test site in Palmdale, where it would spend over 11 months in vibration tests designed to simulate entire shuttle flights, from launch to landing.[4] In order to prevent damage during structural testing, qualification tests were performed to a factor of safety of 1.2 times the design limit loads. The qualification tests were used to validate computational models, and compliance with the required 1.4 factor of safety was shown by analysis.[5] STA-099 was essentially a complete airframe of a Space Shuttle orbiter, with only a mockup crew module installed and thermal insulation placed on its forward fuselage.[6]

NASA planned to refit the prototype orbiter Enterprise (OV-101), used for flight testing, as the second operational orbiter. However, design changes made during construction of the first orbiter, Columbia (OV-102), would have required extensive rework. Because STA-099's qualification testing prevented damage, NASA found that rebuilding STA-099 as OV-099 would be less expensive than refitting Enterprise. Work on converting STA-099 into Challenger began in January 1979, starting with just the crew module (the pressurized portion of the vehicle) as the rest of the orbiter was still used by Lockheed. STA-099 returned to the Rockwell plant in November 1979, and the original unfinished crew module was replaced with the newly-constructed model. Major portions of STA-099, including the payload bay doors, body flap, wings and vertical stabilizer, also had to be returned to their individual subcontractors for rework. By spring 1981, most of these components had returned to Palmdale and were reinstalled on the orbiter. Work continued on the conversion until July 1982.[7]

Challenger (and the orbiters built after it) had fewer tiles in its Thermal Protection System than Columbia, though it still made heavy use of the white-colored LRSI tiles on the cabin and main fuselage compared to the later orbiters. Most of the tiles on the payload bay doors, upper wing surfaces, and rear fuselage surfaces were replaced with DuPont white Nomex felt insulation. These modifications as well as an overall lighter structure allowed Challenger to carry 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) more payload than Columbia. Challenger's fuselage and wings were also stronger than Columbia's despite being lighter.[8] The hatch and vertical stabilizer tile patterns were also different from that of the other orbiters. Challenger was also the first orbiter to have a head-up display system for use in the descent phase of a mission, and the first to feature Phase I main engines rated for 104% maximum thrust.

Construction milestones (as STA-099)[edit]

1972 July 26Contract Award to North American Rockwell
1975 November 21Start structural assembly of crew module
1976 June 14Start structural assembly of aft fuselage.
1977 March 16Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
1977 September 30Start of Final Assembly
1978 February 10Completed Final Assembly
1978 February 14Rollout from Palmdale

Construction milestones (as OV-099)[edit]

1979 January 5Contract Award to Rockwell International, Space Transportation Systems Division
1979 January 28Start structural assembly of crew module
1980 November 3Start of Final Assembly
1981 October 23Completed Final Assembly
1982 June 30Rollout from Palmdale
1982 July 1Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
1982 July 5Delivery to KSC
1982 December 19Flight Readiness Firing (FRF)
1983 April 4First Flight (STS-6)

Flights and modifications[edit]

After its first flight in April 1983, Challenger quickly became the workhorse of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, flying far more missions per year than Columbia. In 1983 and 1984, Challenger flew on 85% of all Space Shuttle missions. Even when the orbiters Discovery and Atlantis joined the fleet, Challenger remained in heavy use with three missions a year from 1983 to 1985. Challenger, along with Discovery, was modified at Kennedy Space Center to be able to carry the Centaur-G upper stage in its payload bay. If flight STS-51-L had been successful, Challenger's next mission would have been the deployment of the Ulysses probe with the Centaur to study the polar regions of the Sun.

Challenger's many spaceflight accomplishments included the first American woman, African-American, and Canadian in space; three Spacelab missions; and the first night launch and night landing of a Space Shuttle. Challenger was also the first space shuttle to be destroyed in an accident during a mission. The collected debris of the vessel are currently buried in decommissioned missile silos at Launch Complex 31, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. From time to time, further pieces of debris from the orbiter wash up on the Florida coast.[11] When this happens, they are collected and transported to the silos for storage. Because of its early loss, Challenger was the only space shuttle that never wore the NASA "meatball" logo, and also was never modified with the MEDS "glass cockpit". The tail was also never fitted with a drag chute – it was fitted to the remaining orbiters in 1992.

Space Shuttle Challenger as STA-099.jpg
Challenger's rollout from Orbiter Processing
Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Photo 1983-8-25 courtesy of NASA.
Challenger while in service as structural test article STA-099.
#DateDesignationLaunch padLanding locationNotesMission duration
1April 4, 1983STS-6LC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseDeployed TDRS-A.

First spacewalk during a space shuttle mission.

5 days, 00 hours, 23 minutes, 42 seconds
2June 18, 1983STS-7LC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseSally Ride becomes first American woman in space.

Deployed two communications satellites.

6 days, 02 hours, 23 minutes, 59 seconds
3August 30, 1983STS-8LC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseGuion Bluford becomes first African-American in space

First shuttle night launch and night landing.
Deployed Insat-1B.
Carried 260,000 envelopes stamped to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of NASA.

6 days, 01 hours, 08 minutes, 43 seconds
4February 3, 1984STS-41-BLC-39AKennedy Space CenterFirst untethered spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit.

Deployed WESTAR and Palapa B-2 communications satellites unsuccessfully (both were retrieved during STS-51-A).

7 days, 23 hours, 15 minutes, 55 seconds
5April 6, 1984STS-41-CLC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseSolar Maximum Mission service mission.6 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes, 07 seconds
6October 5, 1984STS-41-GLC-39AKennedy Space CenterFirst mission to carry two women.

Marc Garneau becomes first Canadian in space.
Kathryn D. Sullivan becomes first American woman to make a spacewalk.
Deployed Earth Radiation Budget Satellite.

8 days, 05 hours, 23 minutes, 33 seconds
7April 29, 1985STS-51-BLC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseCarried Spacelab-3.7 days, 00 hours, 08 minutes, 46 seconds
8July 29, 1985STS-51-FLC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseCarried Spacelab-2.7 days, 22 hours, 45 minutes, 26 seconds
9October 30, 1985STS-61-ALC-39AEdwards Air Force BaseCarried German Spacelab D-1.

Wubbo Ockels becomes the first Dutchman in space

7 days, 00 hours, 44 minutes, 51 seconds
10January 28, 1986STS-51-LLC-39B(planned to land at Kennedy Space Center).Shuttle disintegrated after launch, killing all seven astronauts on board. Was to have deployed TDRS-B.0 days, 00 hours, 01 minute, 13 seconds

Mission insignias[edit]

NASA Orbiter Tribute for Space Shuttle Challenger
Space Shuttle Challenger tribute poster.jpg
Mission insignia for Challenger flights
STS-8 patch.svg
STS-41-C patch.png
STS-41-G patch.png

Loss of Challenger[edit]

The crew of the Challenger's final flight. In the back row from left to right: Ellison S. Onizuka,Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judy Resnik. In the front row from left to right: Michael J. Smith, Dick Scobee, and Ron McNair.
Space Shuttle Challenger's smoke plume after its in-flight breakup, resulting in its crash and the deaths of all seven crew members.

Challenger was destroyed at 11:39:13 am Eastern Standard Time on January 28, 1986. It broke up mid-flight in the second minute of its tenth mission.[12] The cause was ultimately found to be the failure of an O-ring seal on the right solid-fuel rocket booster (SRB). Its failure was due to a variety of factors, including unusually low temperatures prior to lift off.[13]

As the shuttle began its ascent, a plume of flame began escaping through the booster rocket's faulty seal. This started to heat the shuttle's external fuel tank and the SRB's aft attachment strut. Eventually this process caused a catastrophic structural failure that led to the rapid explosive release of hydrogen and oxygen from the fuel tanks. This ruptured Challenger's reaction control system resulting in the burning of its hypergolic propellants. This placed extreme aerodynamic load on the Orbiter because it was traveling at about Mach 1.92. As the structural integrity began to fail due to the stress, Challenger broke up.[14] All seven crew members were killed.

Crew members[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Harwood, William (October 12, 2009). "STS-129/ISS-ULF3 Quick-Look Data". CBS News. Retrieved November 30, 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Orbiter Vehicles", Kennedy Space Center, NASA, 2000-10-03, retrieved November 7, 2007.
  3. ^ "NASA - Space Shuttle Overview: Challenger (OV-099)". Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  4. ^ Lardas, Mark (2012). Space Shuttle Launch System: 1972-2004. Osprey Publishing. p. 36. 
  5. ^ NASA Engineering and Safety Center (2007). Design Development Test and Evaluation (DDT&E) Considerations for Safe and Reliable Human Rated Spacecraft Systems, Vol. II, June 14, 2007, p. 23.
  6. ^ Evans, Ben (2007). Space Shuttle Challenger: Ten Journeys Into the Unknown. Praxis Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 0-387-46355-0. 
  7. ^ Lardas, Mark (2012). Space Shuttle Launch System: 1972-2004. Osprey Publishing. p. 36. 
  8. ^ Lardas, Mark (2012). Space Shuttle Launch System: 1972-2004. Osprey Publishing. p. 36. 
  9. ^ "Shuttle Orbiter Challenger (OV-099)". NASA/KSC. Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Shuttle Orbiter Challenger (OV-099)". NASA/KSC. Retrieved November 7, 2012. 
  11. ^ CNN (1996). "Shuttle Challenger debris washes up on shore". CNN. Retrieved November 7, 2007. 
  12. ^ "Space Shuttle Mission 51-L", Kennedy Space Center, NASA, 2001-06-21, retrieved August 14, 2010.
  13. ^ NASA (1986). "Challenger Accident Investigation Report: Chapter 4: The Cause of the Accident". NASA. Retrieved November 7, 2007. 
  14. ^ NASA (1986). "Challenger Accident Investigation Report: Chapter 3: The Accident". NASA. Retrieved November 7, 2007. 

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]