Challenger explodes following perfect lift-off

(AP) CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Following an apparently flawless launch, a catastrophic explosion blew apart the space shuttle Challenger 74 seconds after lift-off Tuesday.
The explosion occurred about the time Challenger was to enter a period of maximum aerodynamic pressure when wind and other atmospheric conditions would place the maximum force on the outside of the vehicle.
The tank burst into a fireball that destroyed Challenger high above the Atlantic while crew families and NASA officials watched in despair from the Cape. Other observers noted that the boosters continued to fly crazily through the sky after the explosion, apparently under full power.
A source who monitored the Challenger at the Johnson Space Center in Houston said the blast occurred “unexpectedly and with absolutely no warning. There were no signs of abnormalities on the screens.”
“We will not speculate as to the specific cause of the explosion based on that footage, said Jesse Moore, NASA’s top shuttle administrator. National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials are organizing an investigation board, and Moore said it will take a “careful review” of all data “before we can reach any conclusions.”
“I regret … to report that based on very preliminary searches of the ocean where the Challenger impacted … that these searches have not revealed any evidence that the crew of the Challenger survived,” Moore told a midafternoon news conference Tuesday.
The purpose of the mission was to release and retrieve one satellite to study Halley’s comet and launch another to become a part of the spacebased shuttle communications network.
Flags at Cape Canaveral were lowered to half-staff. The countdown clock that marks the progress of the mission continued for hours.
Students say shuttle tragedy shouldn’t halt space program
Van A. Hayden
Computer Science junior David Schaal and his mom watched in disbelief at their home as the launch of the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger ended in disaster Tuesday morning.
Paul Weiblin, director of the University’s Space Science Center, was in a Pillsbury Hall laboratory near his office Tuesday, preparing an experiment scheduled to be performed during an upcoming shuttle mission.
Jerry Farm, an aerospace graduate student who described himself as “very pro-space” called the explosion that killed a crew of seven, including a New Hampshire school teacher, “a very unfortunate loss,” and said he hopes it will not cripple the U.S. space program.
“I think a lot of people will want to step back and say, ‘Let’s look at this thing close.’ But it’s part of the learning process,” Farm said. “In a sense we owe it to those people on board to go forward.”
Schaal, who is the president of the University’s L-5 Society, a student organization dedicated to the promotion of space development, agreed that Tuesday’s disaster should not impair the space program.
He said he cried as he watched the shuttle’s orbiter explode into a fireball just 75 seconds after launch.
Speculating on the length of time the space program might be set back, Weiblen said the delay will depend on what NASA officials discover in their investigation.
If they uncover a design flaw, he said, shuttle flights could be delayed at least a year. He also did not rule out the possibility of sabotage.
“I think NASA’s security effort would preclude that, but certainly the question will be raised,” Weiblen said.
Tuesday’s disaster marked the first of NASA’s 55 piloted missions where lives were lost in flight.
Schaal said he has confidence in NASA and believes the explosion was a “freak accident” and should not halt future space missions. “There are airplane and car crashes all the time, but I still fly on airplanes and ride on cars,” Schaal said.
The immediate setback for NASA would be the loss of the orbiter, but a more serious setback might be the loss of congressional support, Schaal said.
Japan and several European countries that have expressed an interest in working with NASA might back out and build their own station if Congress forces a long delay, he said.
“The U.S. would take a back seat in space development if that happened,” Schaal said. “If we allow other countries to get ahead of us we will have to rely on them for materials.”