On Jan. 28, 1986, at 11:39 a.m., people across the country watched in horror as the space shuttle Challenger exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, killing everyone on board. It remains one of the worst accidents of the American space program.
Hardly more than a minute after liftoff and about 10 miles above Earth, the space shuttle Challenger erupted into a ball of flame. The Times reported that the “orange fireball and billowing white trails” initially confused many onlookers, who did not realize that something had gone terribly wrong. “Obviously a major malfunction,” said Stephen A. Nesbitt of Mission Control, according to a transcript of the shuttle’s final moments. “We have no downlink.” And then, after a long pause: “We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded.”