Challenger Disaster: What Happened To The Space Shuttle And Why Did It Fail?

By Karen Harris
Space Shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after take-off. (NASA/Wikimedia Commons)

On a clear, blue January morning in 1986, NASA's space shuttle Challenger blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was a mission unlike any before, as an average U.S. citizen had won a spot on the shuttle, but with all eyes (and cameras) on the sky, everything went wrong.

Teachers In Space

At the time, the Space Shuttle program, which was the first NASA program using spacecraft that were designed to be reusable, was still in its infancy. On April 12, 1981, NASA launched their first shuttle, Columbia, with a crew of two astronauts, mostly just to make sure the thing worked. (It did, for a while.)

Three years later, emboldened by the program's success, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project, designed to shift the focus of space travel from military and business applications back to education and exploration and maybe generate some publicity (and funding) for the Space Shuttle program. Ironically, he also wanted to demonstrate to the public that space travel was safe.