It was a bright, clear morning, and a frigid one by Florida standards: Icicles glistened on the launch tower as the space shuttle Challenger counted down to liftoff from Kennedy Space Center on Jan. 28, 1986. Late the night before, a group of engineers had recommended against launching, uncertain how the cold might affect seals in its the shuttle’s twin solid rocket boosters. Managers overruled them, and their concerns never reached top officials or the astronauts.
School children across the country followed along on TV to see the launch of NASA’s Teacher in Space, Christa McAuliffe, whose participation distinguished this shuttle mission from the 24 before it.
73 seconds after liftoff, a fireball engulfed the shuttle. The boosters pitchforked away while the orbiter broke apart, dooming its crew of seven.