Ellison Onizuka Gregory Jarvis and

Christa McAuliffe . .. The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger honoured us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God'."

President Ronald Reagan, 28 January 1986

From the ground, no one saw the puffs of smoke that emerged from an O-ring seal on the right-hand SRB. Within two and a half seconds of ignition, they had disappeared anyway, as the expanding SRB casing temporarily closed the gap formed by the cracked O-ring. It was not until 59 seconds into the flight that flame suddenly spurted from the joint, growing rapidly into a white-hot blowtorch that was blown backwards onto the central tank and the SRB's own support strut. At 72 seconds, the strut gave way, and a second later, the external tank ruptured, its exposed propellants exploding in a blast that tore the Challenger orbiter to pieces, killing all on board.

RETRIEVAL OF LDEF

During the STS-32 mission of January 1990, Columbia retrieved an experiment called the Long Duration Exposure Facility, which had been released by Challenger back in 1984.

RETRIEVAL OF LDEF

During the STS-32 mission of January 1990, Columbia retrieved an experiment called the Long Duration Exposure Facility, which had been released by Challenger back in 1984.

After Challenger

The Space Shuttle's return-to-flight programme began falteringly, but within a couple of years, the Shuttle and its crews were accomplishing some of its most ambitious missions yet.

When Discovery returned to space in late September 1988, the eyes of the world were watching what would otherwise have been a relatively mundane mission. As well as testing the modified hardware, NASA was using the flight to finally continue its deployment of the TDRS data satellite network. TDRS-C would supplement the earlier TDRS-A, which was now beginning to fail. Over the next two years, the Shuttle would launch a further three satellites, improving and reinforcing its orbital communications.

Many of the other Shuttle missions in this period were launches of classified, defence-related satellites. With the Shuttle grounded for so long, the US military had been without a heavy-lift launch vehicle (the USAF's own Titan IV was not yet ready), and they did not hesitate to demand their share of launch slots. Aside from a couple of commercial satellite launches, other significant missions of the time included much-delayed spaceprobe launches (of the Galileo, Magellan, and Ulysses probes) and deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), delayed since 1986 and finally launched in April 1990. Spacelab missions resumed in 1990 with the ASTRO-1 astronomy mission. Throughout 1991, the rate of missions gradually ramped up again, and some limited spacewalking took place in the cargo bay.

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DEPLOYING GALILEO

r/?e posKhallenger /j/'oius meant that when this Jupiter probe was finally deployed, it had missed its best launch window and had to take a circuitous route to the giant planet.

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