The Space Shuttle Challenger crew likely survived the explosion on board until their capsule plunged into the Atlantic Ocean, according to a new book about the 1986 disaster, "The Burning Blue: The Untold Story of Christa McAuliffe and NASA's Challenger Disaster" by Kevin Cook.
As the Space Shuttle Challenger began hurtling above the Earth at twice the speed of sound, pilot Michael Smith noticed something alarming outside of his window.
"Uh oh," Smith said, according to the New York Post.
A fire had started just outside of Smith's window.
On the ground, a computer registered that pressure was falling in the right booster rocket. It started to leak fuel.
It was later learned the cold from a Florida morning had stiffened the o-ring booster sections together, the sections containing the explosive fuel. The rings failed to expand, leaving only a millimeter gap between booster sections.
The gap allowed a few grams of superheated fuel to blaze past the o-rings. And at 1 minute, 12 seconds after liftoff, the tank quickly ruptured, igniting the hydrogen fuel and causing a massive explosion.
The sections of the rockets kept continuing upward in divergent directions until an Air Force officer quickly hit a self-destruct button while the rockets were over the ocean to prevent them from falling into populated areas.
Soon, rows of S's lined computer screens inside Houston's Mission Control and Florida's Launch Control centers, indicating "static." All audio and communication with the shuttle and crew had been lost.
The crew — Smith, Dick Scobee, Ronald McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judith Resnik, Gregory Jarvis, and Christa McAuliffe — reportedly survived the initial explosion, but the ensuing aftermath was now propelling them at such a force, around 20 G's, that the crew is thought to have lost consciousness. Examination of the wreckage concluded that three astronauts' air had been turned on, indicating they survived the explosion.
After a presidential commission to examine the wreckage concluded in June 1986, pieces of the Challenger were therein entombed at an unused missile silo at Cape Canaveral.
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