|Contract:||July 26 1972|
|Named After:||HMS Challenger|
|First Date:||April 4 1983 – April 9 1983|
|Last Date:||January 28 1986|
|Status:||destroyed January 28 1986|
Space Shuttle Challenger (NASA Orbiter Vehicle Designation: OV-099) was NASA's second Space Shuttle orbiter to be put into service, Columbia being the first. Its maiden flight was on April 4, 1983, and it completed nine missions before breaking apart 73 seconds after the launch of its tenth mission, STS-51-L on January 28, 1986, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. (For more on the Challenger disaster, see Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.) The accident led to a two-and-a-half year grounding of the shuttle fleet, with missions resuming in 1988 with the launch of on STS-26. Challenger herself was replaced by the, which first launched in 1992.
The shuttle was constructed by using a body frame (STA-099) that had initially been built as a test article. STA-099 was not originally intended for spaceflight, but NASA found that recycling it would be less expensive than refitting the prototype orbiter Enterprise (OV-101) to be spaceworthy, as originally planned.
Challenger (and the orbiters built after it) had fewer tiles in its Thermal Protection System than Columbia. Most of the tiles on the payload bay doors, upper wing surface and rear fuselage surface were replaced with DuPont white nomex felt insulation. This modification allowed Challenger to carry 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) more payload than Columbia. Challenger was also the first orbiter to have a head-up display system for use in the descent phase of a mission.
After its first flight, Challenger quickly became the workhorse of NASA's Space Shuttle fleet, flying far more missions per year than Columbia. In 1983 and 1984, Challenger flew on 85% of all Space Shuttle missions. Even when the orbiters Discovery and Atlantis joined the fleet, Challenger remained in heavy use with three missions a year from 1983-85. Challenger, along with Discovery, was modified at Kennedy Space Center to be able to carry the Centaur-G upper-stage in its payload bay. Had STS-51-L been successful, Challengers next mission would have been the deployment of the Ulysses probe with the Centaur to study the polar regions of the Sun.
Challengers many spaceflight accomplishments included the first American woman, African-American, and Canadian in space, three Spacelab missions, and the first night launch and landing of a Space Shuttle. Challenger was also the first space shuttle to be destroyed in an accident during a mission. The collected debris of the vessel are currently stored in decommissioned missile silos at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. From time to time, further pieces of debris from the orbiter wash up on the Florida coast. When this happens, they are collected and transported to the silos for storage. Because of her early loss, Challenger was the only space shuttle that never wore the NASA "meatball" logo.
|Challengers rollout from Orbiter Processing|
Facility (OPF) to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB). Photo 1983-8-25 courtesy of NASA.
|Challenger while in service as structural test article STA-099.|
|Date||Designation||Launch pad||Landing location||Notes||Length of journey|
|1||April 4 1983||STS-6||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Deployed TDRS-A.|
First spacewalk during a space shuttle mission.
|5 days, 00 hours, 23 minutes, 42 seconds|
|2||June 18 1983||STS-7||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space.|
Deployed two communications satellites.
|6 days, 02 hours, 23 minutes, 59 seconds|
|3||August 30 1983||STS-8||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Guion Bluford becomes first African-American in space|
First shuttle night launch and night landing.
Carried 260,000 envelopes stamped to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of NASA.
|6 days, 01 hours, 08 minutes, 43 seconds|
|4||February 3 1984||STS-41-B||LC-39A||Kennedy Space Center||First untethered spacewalk.|
Deployed two communications satellites, unsuccessfully.
|7 days, 23 hours, 15 minutes, 55 seconds|
|5||April 6 1984||STS-41-C||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Solar Maximum Mission service mission.||6 days, 23 hours, 40 minutes, 07 seconds|
|6||October 5 1984||STS-41-G||LC-39A||Kennedy Space Center||First mission to carry two women.|
Marc Garneau become first Canadian in space.
Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first American woman to make a spacewalk.
Deployed Earth Radiation Budget Satellite.
|8 days, 05 hours, 23 minutes, 33 seconds|
|7||April 29 1985||STS-51-B||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Carried Spacelab-3||7 days, 00 hours, 08 minutes, 46 seconds|
|8||July 29 1985||STS-51-F||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Carried Spacelab-2||7 days, 22 hours, 45 minutes, 26 seconds|
|9||October 30 1985||STS-61-A||LC-39A||Edwards Air Force Base||Carried German Spacelab D-1||7 days, 00 hours, 44 minutes, 51 seconds|
|10||January 28 1986||STS-51-L||LC-39B||Did not land (Planned to land at Kennedy Space Center)||Shuttle disintegrated after launch, killing all seven astronauts on board. Was to have deployed TDRS-B.||0 days, 00 hours, 01 minutes, 13 seconds|
See main article: Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Challenger was destroyed in the second minute of STS-51-L, the orbiter's tenth mission, on January 28, 1986 at 11:38:00 a.m. EST, when an O-ring seal on its right solid rocket booster (SRB) failed. The O-rings failed to seal due to a variety of factors, including unusually cold temperatures. This failure allowed a plume of flame to leak out of the SRB and impinge on both the external fuel tank (ET) and SRB aft attachment strut. This caused both structural failure of the ET and the SRB pivoting into the orbiter and ET. The orbiter's attitude rotated out of the normal flight profile and the vehicle assembly then broke apart under aerodynamic loads.