On Jan. 28, 1986, NASA faced its first shuttle disaster, the loss of the Challenger orbiter and its seven-astronaut crew. Here, Challenger's last crew – members of the STS-51L mission – stand in the White Room at Pad 39B following the end of a launch dress rehearsal. They are (L to R) Teacher in Space Participant, Sharon "Christa" McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Gregory Jarvis, Mission Specialist, Judy Resnik, Commander Dick Scobee. Mission Specialist, Ronald McNair, Pilot, Michael Smith and Mission Specialist, Ellison Onizuka.
STS 51L crew members designed this patch which would have represented their mission. The graphic depicts Challenger launching from Florida with a backdrop of Halley's comet against the U.S. flag. Surnames of the crewmembers complete the patch. The name of the first teacher in space, Sharon Christa McAuliffe, is marked with a symbolic apple.
STS-51L payload specialists appear to float momentarily in a human chain inside the KC-135 aircraft during zero-g training.
STS-51L crewmembers and backup depart Ellington Air Field following brief flights in NASA's T-38 jet trainers. Pictured (L to R): Barbara R. Morgan, Michael J. Smith, an unidentified visitor, Sharon Christa McAuliffe and Francis R. (Dick) Scobee.
Christa McAuliffe and Barbara Morgan, Teacher in Space primary and backup crew members, appear in an official portrait for NASA's Space Shuttle Mission STS-51L. This mission ended in failure when the Challenger orbiter exploded 73 seconds after launch on January 28, 1986.
The STS-51L Challenger flight crew receives emergency egress training in the slide wire baskets. They are (L to R) Mission Specialist, Ronald McNair, Payload Specialist, Gregory Jarvis, Teacher in Space Participant, Christa McAuliffe. Directly behind them are Mission Specialist Judy Resnik and Mission Specialist, Ellison Onizuka.
Teacher in Space Participant Christa McAuliffe is seen in an informal pose during training for STS-51L.
STS-51L crew members practice emergency egress from the Space Shuttle in JSC's mockup and integration laboratory.
Crew members of the STS 51-L mission have breakfast on launch morning in the Operations and Checkout Building prior to liftoff of the orbiter Challenger.
On the day of Space Shuttle Challenger's launch, icicles draped the Kennedy Space Center. The unusually cold weather most likely led to the failure that doomed the mission.
Icicles formed on the launch pad and service tower in the evening and early morning hours of January 28, 1986. When freezing temperatures were predicted, all water supply lines were left on slow "trickle" to prevent lines from bursting, creating these out-of-place icicles.
In this picture, a cloud of grey-brown smoke can be seen on the right side of the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) directly across from the letter "U" in United States. This was the first sign indicating an SRB joint breach may have occurred.
Challenger begins to lift off.
At 78 seconds after liftoff, this image shows Challenger's left wing, main engines (still burning residual propellant) and the forward fuselage (crew cabin).
One of the now-detached solid rocket boosters can be seen at the top of this view.
Thousands of of JSC employees and family and friends of the 51-L crew members filled the memorial. Bleachers had to be erected overnight to accommodate the hundreds of news media covering the event.
A school of fish swims by a portion of a solid rocket booster, awaiting retrieval.
Large portions of the three main engines of the Space Shuttle Orbiter Challenger were recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean to the east of the Kennedy Space Center. They were moved to a large storage building to the east of the Logistics Facility at Complex 39. Most of the pieces were recovered by the Coast Guard and the Navy.
Workers lower STS-51L Challenger wreckage remains and boxes of debris into abandoned Minuteman Missile Silos at Complex 31 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
An official portrait shows the STS-51L crewmembers. Back row (L to R): Mission Specialist, Ellison S. Onizuka, Teacher in Space Participant Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist, Greg Jarvis and Mission Specialist, Judy Resnik. Front row (L to R): Pilot Mike Smith, Commander, Dick Scobee and Mission Specialist, Ron McNair.