- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

It was 17 years ago last week that all seven crew members aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger died when the craft exploded 73 seconds after liftoff.
The blast of Jan. 28, 1986, occurred after combustible fuel leaked from an O-ring seal on the right solid rocket booster.
Those killed included Christa McAuliffe, a New Hampshire high school teacher who had taught at Prince George's County schools and who had been selected as the nation's first teacher-astronaut.
A few hours after the disaster, President Reagan went on national television and radio to address the loss.
"The crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger honored us by the way 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," Mr. Reagan concluded.
All manned U.S. spaceflight was suspended for more than 2 years.
The accident yesterday likely was of little surprise to one former astronaut with hands-on experience in the space shuttle program.
"With the system and the risks, there will be an accident someday," Bryan D. O'Connor told The Washington Times on the 10th anniversary of the Challenger explosion.
At that time, Mr. O'Connor was director of the shuttle program for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Before the Challenger accident, the only U.S. space-related deaths occurred on Jan. 27, 1967, when Air Force Lt. Col. Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom, Air Force Lt. Col. Edward H. White, and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Roger Chaffee died in a fire during a rehearsal launch for the Apollo 1 mission.
The first in-flight failure in the U.S. space program occurred three years later.
On April 13, 1970, Apollo 13 lost the use of an oxygen tank necessary to supply air and power. The lunar mission was aborted, but the three-man crew survived by using the lunar module as a lifeboat, circling the moon and returning safely to Earth.
The Soviet Union, which started the international space race with the 1957 launch of its Sputnik satellite, experienced many more deaths in its program but initially disclosed few of them.
In late 1962, NASA reported that seven Soviet cosmonauts had died in space between 1959 and 1961.
On March 18, 1980, a Vostok booster rocket being refueled at the Plesetsk Space Center in Russia exploded, killing 50 technicians.
In June 1971, three cosmonauts aboard the Soviet spaceship Soyuz 11 died from lack of oxygen during re-entry. The deaths occurred after a hatchway opened and the capsule's air was sucked into space.
The Soviet strategic missile program, which used many of the same rockets as the space program, also had a string of secret fatal accidents. The worst was the 1960 explosion of an R-16 rocket at the Baikonur Space Center in Kazakhstan, where 100 people were killed. The dead included Air Marshal Mitrofan I. Nedelin, who headed Soviet rocket forces.
The Soviet Union officially acknowledged none of these accidents until the death throes of communism in the late 1980s.
David J. Shayler, author of the book "Disasters and Accidents in Manned Spaceflight," said in an interview yesterday that the Soviets were more vulnerable to such accidents than the United States because their early spacecraft landed on the ground. The U.S. Apollo program used water landings.
"That 'soft landing' is not what you'd call soft," Mr. Shayler said.
Mr. Shayler noted that Russian cosmonaut Vladimir M. Komarov was killed in the first Soyuz mission in 1967, after the capsule's parachute lines tangled on re-entry.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide