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The Complete Space Shuttle Challenger Story

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Space Shuttle Challenger STS-7

Space Shuttle Challenger; STS-7

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STS-7 Mission Patch

STS-7 Mission Patch

NASA
Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster STS-51L Pictures

Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster STS-51L Pictures - Shuttle Destruction

NASA

Space Shuttle Challenger Orbiter History

The Challenger, which was first called STA-099, was built to serve as a test vehicle for the Space Shuttle program. Named after the British Naval research vessel HMS Challenger that sailed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans during the 1870's, Challenger was submitted to a year of intensive vibration and thermal testing. The Apollo 17 lunar module also carried the name of Challenger.

In early 1979, NASA awarded Space Shuttle orbiter manufacturer Rockwell a contract to convert STA-099 to a space-rated orbiter, OV-099. It was the second orbiter to become operational at Kennedy Space Center, arriving in July of 1982. The Challenger was destined to be an historic craft.

On April 4, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger launched on her maiden voyage for the STS-6 mission. During that mission, the first spacewalk of the space shuttle program occurred. The Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA), performed by Astronauts Donald Peterson and Story Musgrave, lasted about 4 hours and 17 minutes. The mission also saw the deployment of the first satellite in the Tracking and Data Relay System constellation.

The next numerical space shuttle mission (though not in chronological order), STS-7, also flown by the Challenger, launched the first American woman, Sally Ride into space. ON STS-8, which actually occured before STS-7, Challenger was the first orbiter to launch and land at night. Later, it was the first to carry two U.S. female astronauts on mission STS 41-G and made the first Space Shuttle landing at Kennedy Space Center, concluding mission STS 41-B. Spacelabs 2 and 3 flew aboard the ship on missions STS 51-F and STS 51-B, as did the first German-dedicated Spacelab on STS 61-A.

After nine successful missions, the Challenger launched on STS-51L on January 28, 1986. Seventy three seconds into the mission, the Challenger exploded, killing the entire crew.

Construction Milestones - STA-099

  • July 26, 1972 - Contract Award
  • Nov. 21, 1975 - Start structural assembly of crew module
  • June 14, 1976 - Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
  • March 16, 1977 - Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
  • Sept. 30, 1977 - Start of Final Assembly
  • Feb. 10, 1978 - Completed final assembly
  • Feb. 14, 1978 - Rollout from Palmdale
Construction Milestones - OV-099
  • Jan. 1, 1979 - Contract Award
  • Jan. 28, 1979 - Start structural assembly of crew module
  • June 14, 1976 - Start structural assembly of aft-fuselage
  • March 16, 1977 - Wings arrive at Palmdale from Grumman
  • Nov. 3, 1980 - Start of Final Assembly
  • Oct. 21, 1981 - Completed final assembly
  • June 30, 1982 - Rollout from Palmdale
  • July 1, 1982 - Overland transport from Palmdale to Edwards
  • July 5, 1982 - Delivery to Kennedy Space Center
  • Dec. 19, 1982 - Flight Readiness Firing
  • April 4, 1983 - First Flight (STS-6)
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