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Space Shuttle Challenger

By Marty McDowell/NASA

Challenger, the second orbiter to become operational at Kennedy Space Center, was named after the British Naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870's. The Apollo 17 lunar module also carried the name of Challenger. Like her historic predecessors, Space Shuttle Challenger and her crews made significant contributions to America's scientific growth.

Challenger joined NASA fleet of reusable winged spaceships in July 1982. It flew nine successful Space Shuttle missions. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger and its seven-member crew were lost 73 seconds after launch when a booster failure resulted in the breakup of the vehicle.

Challenger started out as a high-fidelity structural test article (STA-099). The airframe was completed by Rockwell and delivered to Lockheed Plant 42 for structural testing on 02/04/78. The orbiter structure had evolved under such weight-saving pressure that virtually all components of the air frame were required to handle significant structural stress. With such an optimized design, it was difficult to accurately predict mechanical and thermal loading with the computer software available at the time. The only safe approach was to submit the structural test article to intensive testing and analysis. STA-099 underwent 11 months of intensive vibration testing in a 43 ton steel rig built especially for the Space Shuttle Test Program. The rig consisted of 256 hydraulic jacks, distributed over 836 load application points. Under computer control, it was possible to simulate the expected stress levels of launch, ascent, on-orbit, reentry and landing. Three 1 million pound-force hydraulic cylinders were used to simulate the thrust from the Space Shuttle Main Engines. Heating and thermal simulations were also done.

Rockwell's original $2.6 billion contract had authorized the building of a pair of static-test articles (MPTA-098 and STS-099 and two initial flight-test vehicles (OV-101 and OV-102). A decision in 1978 not to modify Enterprise from her ALT configuration would have left Columbia as the only operational orbiter vehicle so on 1/29/79 NASA awarded Rockwell a supplemental contract to convert Challenger (STA-099) from a test vehicle into a space-rated Orbiter (OV-099).

STA-099 was returned to Rockwell on 11/7/79 and it's conversion into a fully rated Orbiter Vehicle was started. This conversion, while easier than it would have been to convert Enterprise, still involved a major disassembly of the vehicle. Challenger had been built with a simulated crew module and the forward fuselage halves had to be separated to gain access to the crew module. Additionally, the wings were modified and reinforced to incorporate the results of structural testing and two heads-up displays (HUD's) were installed in the cockpit. Empty Weight was 155,400 lbs at rollout and 175,111 lbs with main engines installed. This was about 2,889 pounds lighter than Columbia

Upgrades and Features

Two orbiters, Challenger and Discovery, were modified at KSC to enable them to carry the Centaur upper stage in the payload bay. These modifications included extra plumbing to load and vent Centaur's cryogenic (L02/LH2) propellants (other IUS/PAM upper stages use solid propellants), and controls on the aft flight deck for loading and monitoring the Centaur stage. No Centaur flight was ever flown and after the loss of Challenger it was decided that the risk was too great to launch a shuttle with a fueled Centaur upper stage in the payload bay.


Fateful Challenger takeoff on 1-28-86, courtesy of NASA

Construction Milestones (OV-099)

01/05/79 Contract Award
01/28/79 Start structural assembly of Crew Module
06/14/76 Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
03/16/77 Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
11/03/80 Start of Final Assembly
10/23/81 Completed Final Assembly
06/30/82 Rollout from Palmdale
07/01/82 Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
07/05/82 Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
12/19/82 Flight Readiness Firing
04/04/83 First Flight STS-6

Challenger's Flights:

01. STS-6 (04/04/83)
02. STS-7 (06/18/83)
03. STS-8 (08/30/83)
04. 41-B (02/03/84)
05. 41-C (04/06/84)
06. 41-G (10/05/84)
07. 51-B(04/29/85)
08. 51-F (07/29/85)
09. 61-A (10/30/85)
10. 51-L (1/28/86)

Challenger Flight Log:

10 flights
987 orbits
69 days in space

Source: NASA.


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Space Shuttle Challenger? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"I was working for Rockwell International out in Palmdale, Ca. on the B-1B program at the time but Palmdale is also where the Space Shuttle was built by Rockwell. Many of my friends worked on the Challenger and I will always remember watching the fateful launch and the aftermath of call and emotions that went on immediately following. It is a day I will never forget."


Space References (Books):
Dickinson, Terence. Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Firefly Books, 1998.
Greene, Brian. Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory. Vintage, 2000.
Hawking, Stephen. Illustrated Brief History of Time, Updated and Expanded Edition. Bantam, 1996.
Hawking, Stephen. Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe. New Millenium, 2002.
Hawking, Stephen. The Universe in a Nutshell. Bantam, 2001.
Kaku, Michio. Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Berkley Pub Group, 2001.
Sagan, Carl; Druyan, Ann. Comet, Revised Edition. Ballantine, 1997
Sagan, Carl. Cosmos, Reissue Edition. Ballantine, 1993
Sagan, Carl. Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. Ballantine, 1997

Space References (Videos):
Cosmos. PBS, 2000.
Stephen Hawking's Universe. PBS, 1997.
Hyperspace. BBC, 2002.
Life Beyond Earth PBS, 1999.
The Planets
. BBC, 1999.
Understanding The Universe. A&E, 1996.



Space Shuttle Challenger on the launching pad, February 1, 1983

Courtesy of NASA

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