Encyclopedia Entry #3 – Space Shuttle Challenger

On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger made history.  It was the first manned spacecraft to be destroyed after launch.  That was a big event, but what do we remember about what Challenger did before it was destroyed?  It seems its last moments are ingrained in our memories, but we’ve forgotten about its achievements.

Space Shuttle Challenger being launched on its first mission April 4, 1983. Image is public domain, source Wikipedia.
Space Shuttle Challenger being launched on its first mission April 4, 1983. Image is public domain, source Wikipedia.

The Space Shuttle Challenger was the second space shuttle to be space-worthy.  The first was Columbia, and the Enterprise was only for testing.  Its first mission was on April 4, 1983, and its 10th and final ill-fated mission was on January 28, 1986.  It was named after the HMS Challenger.

5 Interesting Facts

1. First, some statistics about the shuttle.  It’s 56.1 metres tall and 2,030 tonnes.  Its low earth orbit capacity is 24,400 kg.

2. There were some remarkable firsts by Challenger.  On the topic of people, Challenger was host to the first American woman in space (Sally Ride), the first African-American in space (Guion Bluford), the first Canadian in space (Marc Garneau), and the first Dutchman in space (Wubbo Ockels).

3. Challenger also hosted a few first events.  These include the first spacewalk from a shuttle, first night launch and landing by a shuttle, the first untethered spacewalk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, and the first spacewalk done by an American woman (Kathryn D. Sullivan).

4. Enterprise was actually planned to be the second shuttle to be fit for space travel.  It was going to be retrofit to be the second shuttle in space, but Challenger was found to be cheaper to retrofit.  Challenger was originally a Structural Test Article.

5. On October 10, 1984, Challenger was hit by a Soviet laser called Terra-3. It was a tracking laser and was used on low power.  The shuttle crew didn’t even know it happened.  However, it caused the United States to file a formal diplomatic complaint. Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau and American astronaut Kathryn Sullivan reported no disruptions.  Source: American Physical Society.

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