Spacecraft That Exploded

Spacecraft are any piloted or unpiloted vehicles designed to travel through outer space, from satellites and probes, to crewed spacecraft equipped with pressurized environments and systems designed to protect astronauts.

An explosion in space differs significantly from one on Earth, sending shrapnel flying fast at high speed that poses an immediate threat to spacecraft and crew. Frueh’s team is working on improving databases to prevent collisions from happening in future explosions.

Space Shuttle Challenger

On January 28th 1986, the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated just 73 seconds after launch due to an O-ring that sealed solid rocket boosters deteriorating due to cold temperatures, leading to hot gases escaping and killing all seven astronauts onboard – including New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe who would have become the first civilian ever in space.

Challenger’s story doesn’t end here, however. After its explosion, its pieces continued moving upward until reaching an altitude of approximately 65,000 feet before starting their descent and eventually hitting the Atlantic Ocean.

Astronauts aboard the crew cabin were able to survive this arc by braving accelerations of 12-20 G’s for about two seconds, yet still remaining conscious and chattering excitedly about their mission. Morton Thiokol Inc. – manufacturer of faulty solid rocket boosters that caused this accident – paid out $6.7 million as compensation to families of astronauts killed in this tragedy.

Space Shuttle Columbia

Space Shuttle Columbia was tragically lost during its return to Earth on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven astronauts on board. A six-volume report by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) detailed how a suitcase-sized piece of foam insulation that had fallen from its external tank during launch struck its left wing and created a hole that allowed superheated atmospheric gases to pass through thermal protection tiles and compromise its structural integrity – leading to its demise and thus ending all lives on board.

CAIB also identified managerial failings at NASA, including their tendency to mitigate safety concerns due to bureaucracy and scheduling restrictions. Furthermore, their report faulted NASA managers for placing too much emphasis on status rather than technical expertise when making decisions.

Even in the midst of tragedy, the crew of Space Shuttle Columbia performed remarkable scientific work during its 15-day lifespan before it tragically disintegrated. These seven astronauts included Rick Husband as commander; William McCool as pilot; Michael Anderson as payload commander; Kalpana Chawla as mission specialist; Laurel Clark as science officer and Ilan Ramon from Israel as Israeli astronaut.

Space Shuttle Discovery

Minutes after launch, a faulty booster joint opened and allowed hot, pressurized propellants to leak from its external fuel tank into space, leading to an explosion that tore apart the shuttle in minutes and killed seven astronauts.

Within just 73 seconds after launch, Challenger was enveloped in flames resembling an explosion, prompting media reports and NASA officials alike to call it so. Investigation revealed the source to be a rubber “O-ring” seal which had failed due to exposure to cold temperatures on the pad, providing a path for hot exhaust gasses to escape the solid rocket boosters and cause their explosion.

The Rogers Commission blamed this disaster on poor engineering at NASA and Morton Thiokol, as well as disregarding engineers’ warnings against launching in extremely cold weather. It further condemned NASA managers for disobeying engineers.

Space Shuttle Atlantis

After enduring both fire and explosion, NASA’s Shuttle Atlantis became an icon of their ability to recover from tragedy. After flying 33 missions and orbiting Earth more than five thousand times before retiring permanently in 2010, it now serves as a museum piece at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

Atlantis experienced serious difficulties on its second mission after Challenger when one of its solid rocket boosters malfunctioned during launch. A small fragment of insulation dislodged and caused damage to its heat shield. Astronauts relayed images showing this damage; Atlantis commander Robert Gibson thought his mission may end soon: he thought, he thought they might die: “We are going to die.”

Luck was on our side as the thermal protection tile breach occurred near an aluminum mounting structure, providing some level of safety during atmospheric reentry. If the breach had been located elsewhere or had the crew waited before sending rescue, things could have turned much worse quickly.

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