Thirty years ago, the space shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean just 73 seconds after launching. All seven crew members were killed instantly on live television; the view of the space program altered forever less than 20 years after the moon landing, its most triumphant and unifying televised moment.
In an age that predates cell phones and social media, it’s estimated that more than 85 percent of the U.S. had heard about the explosion within an hour of it happening. The significance of this rapid spread of information speaks to the shell-shocked reactions of those who watched the launch. Indeed, the loss of the Challenger was one of those rare, historic moments where everyone remembers exactly where they were when the explosion happened.
Prior to the explosion, 1986 was slated to be the Year of the Shuttle, with NASA scheduling launches almost monthly. However, NASA’s hectic schedule led to scores of technical oversights, as well as “go fever,” a term first coined after the Apollo disaster of 1967, referring to a kind of fast-paced, end-game only methodology where deadlines seemingly mattered more than safety.