Chal­lenger, 25 years later

Take com­fort in know­ing our hori­zons con­tinue to grow

The Citizen-Record (Cumberland) - - OPINION -

Twenty-five years later, the im­ages are no less hor­ri­fy­ing. Peo­ple around the world watched as seven as­tro­nauts met their death in the ex­plo­sion of the space shut­tle Chal­lenger on Jan. 28, 1986.

Those who re­mem­ber that freez­ing cold morn­ing will have no doubt vivid rec­ol­lec­tion of the dis­as­ter. School chil­dren, in par­tic­u­lar, had an in­ter­est in the launch, as New Hamp­shire school­teacher Christa McAuliffe was part of the crew. McAuliffe was sched­uled to be­come the “first teacher in space” through the NASA Teacher in Space ed­u­ca­tional project, and many schools broad­casted the launch on live tele­vi­sion.

The shut­tle ex­ploded due to a faulty O-ring in one of its rocket boost­ers that al­lowed hot gases to burn a hole in the fuel tank. The frigid weather had caused the O-ring to shrink. The re­sult­ing ex­plo­sion was so shock­ing that tele­vi­sion an­nounc­ers cov­er­ing the launch seemed un­able to com­pre­hend what they had seen.

The worst part of the dis­as­ter was the even­tual con­clu­sion that it could have been pre­vented. Par­tial fail­ures and warn­ings about the O-rings had been dis­missed by NASA man­agers prior to the launch. That same fail­ure to act led to a sim­i­lar ex­plo­sion of the Columbia shut­tle - and the death of seven more as­tro­nauts - 17 years later.

Safety prac­tices at NASA are now painstak­ingly strin­gent, to the point where the next launch has been de­layed since early Novem­ber due to ex­ten­sive test­ing. The im­proved prac­tices won’t bring back those who have been lost, but will clear the way for those who dare to dis­cover for gen­er­a­tions to come.

Space ex­plo­ration has its ben­e­fits, most im­por­tantly as a cause to con­tinue chal­leng­ing our­selves as peo­ple. Those of us who re­mem­ber Chal­lenger know that this comes at a high cost but can take com­fort in know­ing our hori­zons con­tinue to grow.

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