Popular Mechanics (South Africa)


- – Courtney Linder

A mere 73 seconds after lift-off, on 28 January 1986, NASA’s Challenger space shuttle blew apart, killing all seven astronauts aboard. A review commission found a few edge cases that contribute­d to the spacecraft’s demise, but most notably, exceptiona­lly cold temperatur­es were to blame. Challenger’s solid rockets were rated for temperatur­es of 4°C or higher, but ground temperatur­e at launch was just -4.5°C. That, in turn, caused a seal located on the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster – known as an O-ring – to malfunctio­n at launch, letting out hot, pressurise­d gas. The gas ruptured a strut connecting the booster to the external fuel tank, destroying both.

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