Challenger Explosion Essay, Research Paper
The Explosion of the Challenger
The 1960s and 1970s were a time of great confusion and turmoil in the United States. Americans were afraid, paranoid, and insecure due to events like Watergate, Arab oil price hikes, and the Iranian hostage situation. The U.S. Space Program, or NASA, was becoming more successful in the 1980s, with continued advancements that allowed space exploration to be less expensive and more rewarding. The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, on January 28, 1986, changed the American character by once again proving that the U.S. was not perfect and that even the U.S. Space Program was capable of making mistakes. The cold hard facts and answers from the interviews help to paint a picture of how the explosion affected the American character.
Americans were unsure about missions to space during the 1970s, but by 1986, shuttle missions into space were taken for granted by Americans. Many believed that the missions to space were just as routine and simple as a bus ride to work. This flight of the Challenger was unique for two reasons. First, because a civilian and teacher named Christa McAuliffe was aboard the shuttle. She had plans to broadcast school lessons to children all over the United States. The shuttle was secondly unique, because the crew was very diverse. They ranged from having different sexes, religions, races, and they came from many different backgrounds. Americans were somewhat able to relate to this crew.
The Challenger was scheduled to be launched into space on January 20, 1986, but due to a delay in the landing of the Columbus the departure was rescheduled for the 25th of January. On January 25, large dust storms prevented the launching and it was postponed for the next day. The next day came and the launch did not take place because of some damage done to the shuttle. On January 27, the shuttle was ready to go and in the last nine minutes before take-off the counter was stopped due to a stuck bolt on the outside of the handle on the shuttle. By the time NASA technicians had fixed the problem the winds picked up and the flight was delayed another 24 hours. During the night, the temperature at Kennedy Space Center dropped to 26.F. No shuttle had ever been launched in such cold weather, but ultimately the final order came to launch the Challenger. The take-off was clean and smooth. Neither the flight controllers nor the astronauts knew that anything was wrong but one minute and thirteen seconds into the flight the space shuttle Challenger burst into a huge ball of fire and smoke.
The explosion of the Challenger had a large effect on the people who were old enough to remember it. Most of the people who would have gone up in the Challenger in place of Christa McAuliffe felt that the chance to go into space far exceeded the risks involved in space travel. (A, B, and D) As described by many Americans, shock was the first emotion that they felt after they heard about the explosion. Very few were watching the shuttle take-off live but many tuned in to see and hear the replay on the news and over the radio. (A, B, C, D, and E) Many families, communities, and even the country did special things to honor the seven people that lost their lives. Flags flew at half-mast, memorials were held, and the Olympic torch was lit in memory of the deceased seven. President Ronald Regan postponed his State of the Union address in order to deliver a special and moving tribute to the Challenger Seven. One-person even recalls that a special prayer for the crewmembers and their families was offered in her church the following Sunday. (E) There are many schools in the Western Washington area named after Christa McAuliffe and Francis Dick Scobee. There is widespread opinion about whether or not the crewmembers are heroes or victims. Some say that they were heroes in their role as astronauts but victims of a dangerous and unexpected crash. (A, B, and C) Others say that they are heroes alone and that victim is not the right way to describe them. (E) Still more say that neither the term hero nor victim applies to the crewmembers. They claim that they were just astronauts doing their job and an accident, that was not anyone s fault, took their lives away from them. (D)
The American character is always being affected by major events in U.S. history. The Challenger provided an opportunity for a change in the American character that would ultimately bounce the U.S. out of a period of insecurity. The United States had faced all sorts of challenges with foreign and domestic affairs during the second half of the 20th century and many people were shocked to realize that even our very own space program was not perfect. Though there were many problems with the United States, Americans thought that NASA was something that could not and would not disappoint us. Although space travel was making progress (after the Challenger NASA was 96% successful) many wanted to scrap the whole idea of advancement into space. They felt that, among other things, the space program was draining too much money out of the U.S. budget. The military was deeply involved with shuttle missions and they were not about to let them be scrapped, there was nothing to take its place. These opinions of dislike toward the shuttle missions were soon forgotten when Discovery made its first flight.
The American character was greatly changed because of the explosion of the Challenger; it once again proved that the United States was not infallible and that the U.S. Space Program was capable of mistakes. At the memorial for the astronauts President Ronald Reagan ended his tribute to the Challenger Seven with these short and touching words: Dick, Mike, Judy, El, Ron, Greg, and Christa your families and your country mourn your passing. We bid you good-bye, but we will never forget you.