Challenges We’re Overcoming Following the Challenger Accident

The crew of Challenger, lost on January 28, 1986. Credit: NASA.

It was thirty years ago, January 28, 1986, that space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its flight, killing seven astronauts. This is a tough time of year in the history of human spaceflight, as 19 years on January 27, 1967 three astronauts died in a fire in the module of Apollo 1. Then on February 1, 2003, space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, killing all seven crew members.Remembering these events brings home the fact that even today, spaceflight remains far from routine. But over the years, what else have we learned from these tragedies?I recently touched base with long-time NASA engineer Jerry Woodfill, whose name you may recall from our two series about Apollo 13 — 13 Things That Saved Apollo 13 and 13 More Things That Saved Apollo 13.But Jerry was also featured in an article we did in 2008. A year earlier he came across a file of papers from 1985 that proposed how teacher Christa McAuliffe’s eight lessons would be performed on orbit as part of the Challenger mission. Woodfill worked to find old videos, photographs and other materials that had been tucked away in sadness and grief following the loss of Challenger and put together lesson plans and gave them to the Challenger Center. The lessons are available on the Center’s website.Jerry and I discussed other “lessons” that may have been learned from the tragedies, and he had some interesting ideas about paradigm shifts that have occurred over the past 30-plus years. Here are a few “old” ideas that have changed or are in the process of changing:

Civilians, especially women should not be launched on risky missions to space

We’re certainly beyond the “women can’t do what men can” in our society (for the most —> Read More