Friday, January 28, 2011

The Challenger: 25 years ago today

On January 28, 1986 at 11:38 am EST, the space shuttle Challenger blew-up 78 seconds into its flight, destroying the vehicle and all seven aboard. The disaster was caused by the cold temperatures on the ground that day which in turn caused a rubber o-ring (a simple ring made of rubber that acted as a seal between two sections of the solid fuel booster rocket) to lose its resiliency and fail to fill the gap into which it had been place. This allowed flame from the booster rocket to exude from its side, piercing the main fuel tank and destroying a strut that held the booster rocket in place. The resulting lose of stability at incredibly high speed together with the explosive fire that occurred when the fuel tank was ruptured, destroyed the vehicle in mid-flight.

In the following video, physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the panel investigating the Challenger disaster, uses a glass of ice water and a rubber ring to demonstrate what happened:

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