How the Challenger exploded and why it could have been prevented

Exactly 35 years have passed since that space shuttle Challenger It exploded right after the launch. “It should have been a moment of success for space travel,” says science journalist George Van Hall. Speech makers. It turned out differently: seven astronauts lost their lives. And that while the famous disaster could have simply been prevented.

Female teacher

It was extremely tragic for a normal citizen to go into space for the first time. Teacher Christa McAuliffe, 37, was chosen from among eleven,000 teachers to teach two lessons from space.

Space travel could use a boost at that time. “This PR stunt had to show that everyone can dream of a trip to the universe,” says Van Hall, who writes about science for De Volkskrant.

In the documentary Challenger: The Last Flight You can see the confusion in the stands when you see a flash in the sky 73 seconds after launch. “The trajectory of the missiles began to split. For a few seconds, people did not know what they were looking at. Then the disturbances started and people fell into each other’s arms crying.”

They also see pictures at the school where Teacher Christa was studying. “You see students in ceremonial hats looking at the screen and slowly realizing that it is no longer there. For many children, this was their first encounter with death.”


A commission of inquiry concluded at the time that the sealing rings defective with hail during launch were the cause of the disaster. Gases can leak and eventually cause an explosion.

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Investigations also showed that engineers issued several warnings in the lead up to the launch. Van Hall: “The engineers have already warned: Challenger is going to explode, we have to stop this. But at NASA you didn’t want to listen.”

Arrogance and prestige

Van Hall says a combination of arrogance and prestige made the NASA administrator not want to delay the flight following the engineers’ warnings.

In the years after the accident, NASA kept the shuttles on Earth, but in 2003 things went wrong again with the space shuttle Columbia. Seven more people were killed. “The investigation then comes to the same conclusions. The management structure at NASA was created in such a way that they did not listen to the advice of their engineers.”

“Whoever sets the launch schedule is the same person who has to decide if it’s safe enough. These are competing interests.” However, there is no doubt Andre Kuibers would board the ship if asked to go on a mission, says Van Hall, who spoke to the Dutch astronaut about it.

George Van Hull talks about disaster with The Challenger, 35 years ago

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Megan Vasquez

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