The Challenger space shuttle disaster at 30: how the Guardian covered the tragedy

The five men and two women were just 73 seconds into their flight when Challenger blew up

On 28 January 1986, millions watched in stunned silence as NASA’s space shuttle Challenger exploded in the skies above Cape Canaveral, Florida moments after launch. All seven US astronauts on board died.

Challenger disaster live on CNN, 28 January 1986.

Described as the ‘world’s worst space disaster,’ the tragedy raised questions about whether the US space programme had become too ambitious, some in the states even asking if manned space missions should be abandoned altogether.

The Guardian, 29 January 1986
The Guardian, 29 January 1986. Photograph: The Guardian

As the grim task of searching debris from the Challenger began, American started to mourn its ‘space heroes’.

President Ronald Reagan described the tragedy as “a national loss”.

The Guardian, 30 January 1986
The Guardian, 30 January 1986. Photograph: Jason Rodrigues (R&I)/The Guardian

Despite the loss of life, Congress, backed by the president, wanted to fund a new space shuttle, once lessons had been learned from the failed mission.

The Guardian, 12 March 1986
The Guardian, 12 March 1986. Photograph: Jason Rodrigues/The Guardian

The much anticipated presidential commission report on the tragedy, headed by former senator William Rodgers, was highly critical of NASA. Rodgers claimed warnings about the solid booster rockets, which caused the explosion, were ignored as far back as 1978.

The Guardian, June 4 1986
The Guardian, June 4 1986. Photograph: Jason Rodrigues

Having kept faith with its space programme, the US held its breath in 1988 as the Discovery space shuttle sent its five-man crew into orbit. NASA’s first manned launch since Challenger was a success.

The Guardian, 4 October 1988
The Guardian, 4 October 1988. Photograph: Jason Rodrigues/The Guardian


Jason Rodrigues

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Challenger space shuttle disaster amateur video discovered
Video of the 1986 disaster was locked in Florida man's basement for almost 25 years

Richard Luscombe

04, Feb, 2010 @9:56 AM

Article image
Space shuttle: The early years

Simon Jeffery: How the Guardian reported the space shuttle's early years, from inception, through the launch of a 'virility symbol', to the Challenger disaster

Simon Jeffery

08, Jul, 2011 @3:51 PM

Article image
End of the space shuttle programme spells disaster for local economy

When the space shuttle Atlantis returns to Earth, 2,000 Kennedy Space Centre employees will be laid off, bringing job losses from the shuttle programme close to 10,000

Richard Luscombe, Cape Canaveral

07, Jul, 2011 @2:27 PM

Article image
Space shuttle Discovery blasts off

Mission due to arrive at International Space Station on Wednesday is launched from Florida

05, Apr, 2010 @1:08 PM

Nasa appeals for images of shuttle disaster
Nasa has set up a website for members of the public to upload photos or video they took of the space shuttle Columbia disintegrating.

Staff and agencies

04, Feb, 2003 @2:38 PM

Article image
Atlantis makes final touch down - video

Nasa employees gathered at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida to welcome Atlantis home for the last time after 126m miles travelled and the last ever shuttle flight

21, Jul, 2011 @2:35 PM

Article image
Atlantis space shuttle launch threatened by storms

Cape Canaveral downpours could postpone shuttle's final mission by up to 10 days, warns Nasa weather expert

Alok Jha, science correspondent

07, Jul, 2011 @7:07 PM

Article image
Discovery space shuttle makes final journey - video

Nasa's oldest retired shuttle leaves the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida bolted on to the top of a specially modified jet plane

17, Apr, 2012 @12:59 PM

Article image
Space shuttle Endeavour blasts off one last time

Shuttle liftoff watched by injured US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords whose husband, Mark Kelly, is commanding flight

Chris McGreal in Washington

16, May, 2011 @6:47 PM

Nasa begins countdown to first shuttle since Columbia disaster

Nasa controllers last night set the countdown clock ticking to the first shuttle flight since the Columbia disaster.

Richard Luscombe at Cape Canaveral, Florida

11, Jul, 2005 @2:13 PM