Challenger’s legacy

by Chris Bergin

NASA administrator Mike Griffin placed an important positive surrounding the loss of Challenger and her crew 20 years ago, showing their loss was anything but in vain, as the lessons learnt from the failure of STS-51L will ultimately take man back to the Moon.

The Solid Rocket Booster failure that destroyed Challenger led to many hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on making the booster safer, making it one of the safest forms of the first stage of ascent, one which will be used on NASA’s next generation manned space vehicle.

The CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) will come into service in around six years time, replacing then retired Space Shuttle fleet which hasn’t suffered a SRB failure since Challenger. It will be the same SRB technology and concept that will be utilised in the first stage of the new vehicle.

‘The Challenger crew that died, because of a mistake, helped make a better SRB,’ said Griffin during the New Horizons press conference. ‘The SRB has the best record of any spaceflight component we use. It will be a key part of the next steps and we got that from the Challenger crew.

The losses NASA has suffered, from the three astronauts on Apollo 1, to the seven on Columbia in 2003, will all leave their legacy in the expansion of safety and procedures that will ultimately make it that little bit safer for future crews.

‘When I think about the crews, there’s a book called Fate is the Hunter – and in that book when you open it up the writer has a small salute to those that didn’t make it, as we learned as flawed human beings we tried to make flight safe,’ added Griffin.

‘The knowledge we’ve gained has been made through many, many losses, trying to do something very difficult.’

‘Space Flight is the most complex thing we do. It is difficult, it is dangerous. We’re learning to take this technology into new arena. The losses we’ve sustained so far reflect the difficult involved in inventing this new technology. It’s part of a learning process.

‘We will learn in the same way we learned how to do aviation flight. It will be difficult.’

Related Articles