5 Shocking Facts About The Challenger Disaster

On January 28, 1986, the NASA space shuttle Challenger exploded at 48,000 feet just 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members and leaving a nation stunned and in mourning.  Here are five shocking facts you didn't know about the Challenger disaster...


The Astronauts Didn’t Die in the Explosion Although people were led to believe originally that those aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger died in the explosion, that wasn’t actually the case. After an independent investigation, the Miami Herald's Tropic magazine reported that the cabin did not depressurize instantly because several of the air packs for emergencies had been activated during the explosion. The study showed that those inside the cabin were alive as the compartment rose another three miles and then fell for 12 miles, landing in the Atlantic Ocean.

An Engineer Predicted "It's Going To Blow Up" The Night Before The Launch That o-ring problem wasn't a surprise to NASA engineers, who had warned the rings could fail in very cold weather. January 28 was exceptionally cold in Florida, and the launch had already been delayed by several days. One engineer even refused to sign off on the launch because he was worried about how the below-freezing temperatures could affect the ring material. After his managers and NASA overruled their warnings, engineer Bob Eberling told his wife, "It's going to blow up." However, NASA managers gave the go-ahead for the flight despite knowing about the potential for failure.


The Last Sound Recorded Was the Word “Uh-Oh” This spaceflight on Challenger was the first for pilot Mike Smith. Right before contact with the space shuttle was lost by NASA, his voice can be heard on the flight recording uttering “Uh-oh.” This transmission indicated that at least one person on board knew that something was wrong before the explosion occurred.

Big Bird Was Nearly A Member Of The Challenger Crew NASA officials discussed including Big Bird on the Challenger, going so far as to contact Sesame Street and Caroll Spinney, the actor behind the giant yellow bird, about sending Spinney to space as a passenger. "I once got a letter from NASA, asking if I would be willing to join a mission to orbit the Earth as Big Bird, to encourage kids to get interested in space," Spinney said in an essay in The Guardian in 2015. "There wasn't enough room for the puppet in the end, and I was replaced by a teacher." Tragically, high school teacher Christa McAuliffe took his place, and died along with the six other crew members aboard the shuttle that day.

A Soccer Ball Survived the Explosion Astronaut Ellison Onizuka carried along a soccer ball belonging to his daughter’s team on the mission, which he had stowed on board for his trip into space. Following the explosion, the ball was found by salvage crews floating on top of the ocean. After the ball spent many years in a display cabinet at the high school his daughter had attended, it was retrieved to head into space again, this time accompanied by Astronaut Shane Kimbrough on his trip to the International Space Station in 2017 - 31 years after the Challenger tragedy.