The Challenger Disaster


On January 28, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after take-off and killed seven astronauts. It was the 25th shuttle launch since NASA started service in 1981. For the first time a teacher was a member of the crew. Christa McAuliffe had won a contest against thousands of other teachers.

The explosion took place 73 seconds after liftoff. Investigators found out that the accident was caused by rubber rings that became smaller because of the cold weather. These rings were supposed to separate parts of the rocket as it travelled into space. Gas and flames leaked out and created a fire around the spacecraft. The crew probably did not die immediately but were not able to survive the impact in the ocean.



Thousands of people watched on the ground at Cape Canaveral and millions more watched the disaster happen on television. However, space flights were becoming routine during the 1980s. They turned into everyday events that the public did not care about any more. People thought NASA was perfect and nothing could happen.



The Challenger disaster was the first time that America had lost astronauts during a flight. In January 1967 three American astronauts were killed in Apollo 1 during a ground test.

After America had lost one of its three space shuttles all missions were canceled and President Ronald Reagan appointed a committee to look into the disaster. In the following years NASA started to redesign its rockets. Major changes and improvements were made on the shuttle. In 1988 it took off again.

NASA had begun building space shuttles in the 1970s. They wanted to create a spacecraft that could transport cargo into space and be used over and over again. The first shuttle, Columbia was launched in 1981. Three other shuttles, Challenger, Atlantis and Discovery followed. In 1991 the Endeavour replaced the Challenger as the fourth shuttle.

In 2003, disaster struck another space shuttle. Seven astronauts were killed on board the Columbia when it disintegrated over Texas.

The days of the space shuttle are over. The last mission will take place in 2011. In the past few years NASA has helped build a space station in orbit and currently there are plans for a return to the moon and a manned Mars mission.



Related Topics



  • appoint = select, choose
  • cancel = call off, stop
  • Cape Canaveral = place in Florida where American space missions lift off
  • cargo = freight, not passengers
  • caused = what made something happen
  • committee = group of people
  • contest = competition , game
  • currently = right now
  • disaster = catastrophe
  • disintegrate = break up, fall to pieces
  • explode = blow up
  • flame = hot , bright burning gas that you see when something is one fire
  • however = but
  • immediately = at once
  • impact = crash
  • improvement = changes that make something work better
  • investigate = to look into, examine to see what had happened
  • launch = start into space
  • leak out = a small hole, that lets something escape into the open
  • lift-off = take-off
  • major = big
  • manned = with people on board
  • mission = flight
  • orbit = a curved path around an object
  • public = the people
  • redesign = rebuild , make better
  • replace = to take the place of
  • routine = usual, everyday
  • separate = divide, split off
  • service = here: to send the space shuttle into space
  • spacecraft = spaceship
  • strike - struck = hit
  • supposed to = thought to, believed to
  • survive = to live on after a dangerous situation
  • take-off = start