NASA officials gathered at Kennedy Space Center today to mark the 25th anniversary of one of the worst disasters in the history of space travel. The space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after take-off on January 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
I remember that day well. I was a junior in high school and Chemistry class had just started. One of the last students to enter the room had heard the news in the hallway and yelled "THE SHUTTLE EXPLODED !" No one actually believed her at first. There was a radio in the room and we proceeded to listen to the news through the entire period. Silence from everyone.
Had the mission succeeded, the planned orbital activities were as follows: (from nasa.gov)
On Flight Day 1, after arriving into orbit, the crew was to have two periods of scheduled high activity. First they were to check the readiness of the TDRS-B satellite prior to planned deployment. After lunch they were to deploy the satellite and its Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) booster and to perform a series of separation maneuvers. The first sleep period was scheduled to be eight hours long starting about 18 hours after crew wakeup the morning of launch.
On Flight Day 2, the Comet Halley Active Monitoring Program (CHAMP) experiment was scheduled to begin. Also scheduled were the initial "teacher in space" (TISP) video taping and a firing of the orbital maneuvering engines (OMS) to place Challenger at the 152-mile orbital altitude from which the Spartan would be deployed.
On Flight Day 3, the crew was to begin pre-deployment preparations on the Spartan and then the satellite was to be deployed using the remote manipulator system (RMS) robot arm. Then the flight crew was to slowly separate from Spartan by 90 miles.
On Flight Day 4, the Challenger was to begin closing on Spartan while Gregory B. Jarvis continued fluid dynamics experiments started on day two and day 3. Live telecasts were also planned to be conducted by Christa McAuliffe.
On Flight Day 5, the crew was to rendezvous with Spartan and use the robot arm to capture the satellite and re-stow it in the payload bay.
On Flight Day 6, re-entry preparations were scheduled. This included flight control checks, test firing of maneuvering jets needed for re-entry, and cabin stowage. A crew news conferences was also scheduled following the lunch period.
On Flight Day 7, the day would have been spent preparing the Space Shuttle for deorbit and entry into the atmosphere. The Challenger was scheduled to land at the Kennedy Space Center 144 hours and 34 minutes after launch.