It became known that the astronauts of the “Challenger” were not killed in the explosion of the shuttle.
The crew of the shuttle “Challenger” did not die immediately after the explosion, but remained conscious and tried to save the ship. This is stated in the book published in the United States, dedicated to the biography of teacher Christa McAuliffe, whose death, along with the rest of the shuttle crew, became a national tragedy in the United States.
The crew of the American space shuttle Challenger, which exploded 35 years ago, remained alive and conscious for some time after the explosion. Such data is provided in the recently published book “Burning Blue: the Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger”.
On January 28, 1986, the American space shuttle Challenger, which had already become a routine launch, took place — by the end of January 1986, the space shuttles had completed 24 missions to orbit under the Space Shuttle program.
This launch attracted increased attention perhaps because it was the first time that a civilian specialist was on board the shuttle.
The crew of the Challenger for the next mission included seven people-commander Francis Scobie, co-pilot Michael Smith, scientists Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, and Ronald McNair, as well as payload specialist Gregory Jarvis and Sharon Christa McAuliffe. She was going on a flight for the first time – as the first participant of the project “Teacher in Space.”
The guest stands were packed with guests of honor that day, starting with US President Ronald Reagan. They could see the launch pad through their binoculars. Millions of Americans were watching the event thanks to a TV broadcast from Cape Canaveral. The weather was almost perfect for the start: cloudless sky, bright sun, light wind. However, on the night before the launch, an ice storm passed over the spaceport, as a result of which the joints and O-rings on the accelerators were supercooled and iced. The air temperature dropped to record lows.
At 11:38 a.m., the Challenger lifted off the ground. Immediately after the launch, the cameras recorded white smoke coming out of the joint of the lower and middle sections of the right accelerator. Later, analyzing the footage, experts suggested that it was water vapor coming out.
The rocket’s speed was twice the speed of sound when Commander Michael Smith realized something was wrong. Smith, who was sitting on the right side of the cockpit, could probably look out the window and see a flash of flame or steam.
“Ah, oh,” he managed to say in the 73rd second of the flight – these were the last words that were received on the radio in the Control Center. At this moment, the monitors installed in the MCC showed signs of a decrease in pressure in the right solid-fuel accelerator.
Later, the commission found that the destruction was caused by damage to the O-ring of the right solid-fuel accelerator at launch: in low temperatures, a permanent gap was formed, through which the combustion products broke through. The tongue of flame reached one of the struts securing the accelerator. Shortly after the Challenger passed the point of maximum dynamic pressure, the strut burst, the accelerator turned, tore through the bottom of the fuel block’s hydrogen tank, and damaged the oxygen tank. At the 73rd second of the flight at an altitude of about 14 km, the fuel tank exploded. The ship instantly collapsed, its wreckage falling into the Atlantic Ocean.
At this moment, on the ground, an Air Force officer, whose name remains unknown, pressed a special button, detonating the solid-fuel boosters that were already flying separately, so that their debris fell into the sea, and not somewhere over a populated area.
However, the capsule with the astronauts remained intact – it separated from the ship unharmed. Therefore, the crew members “were conscious, at least at first, and fully understood that something had gone wrong,” according to the book by Kevin Cook, dedicated to the biography of the deceased teacher.
At the time of the explosion, the overload in the capsule reached 20G, which is three times higher than the overload that the crew was subjected to during training. The commission later found that such overloads were non-fatal and the likelihood of injury was “low.”
When examining the wreckage, it turned out that the explosion did not lead to an instant depressurization, which would have led to the loss of consciousness of people. Moreover, three crew members managed to use their emergency oxygen masks. In addition, Commander Smith was trying to activate the shuttle’s engine-this was indicated by the toggle switch on his control panel.
“What were they supposed to do at that moment? Scobie and Smith would have tried to return to Earth,” says former NASA employee Kerry Joels in the book.
The capsule with the crew continued to rise by inertia for another 20 seconds, after which it fell into the ocean 20 kilometers from the start. The fall took more than two minutes, and the impact speed was over 330 km/h.
Millions of TV viewers witnessed the disaster. At the same time, even the presenter of the report did not at first understand what had happened. For a few seconds after the explosion, he continued to talk about the flight: “The flight control shows that everything is going fine. Obviously, there are some problems. We have no connection.”
President Reagan appointed a special commission led by former Secretary of State William Pierce Rogers to investigate the crash. She concluded that deficiencies in NASA’s corporate safety culture and decision-making procedures were the determining factors that led to the crash.
The Commission questioned senior NASA officials and engineers at Morton Thiokol, a supplier of solid–fuel launch vehicles, in closed-door meetings. As it turned out, NASA executives since 1977 were aware of potentially dangerous defects in solid-fuel accelerators supplied by Morton Thiokol, but they did not pay due attention to this. They also ignored the warnings of the designers about the danger of launching the ship in the low temperatures of that morning at Cape Canaveral and did not report their concerns to their superiors.