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Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1986
Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff
(CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida) -- NASA's worst nightmare came true as an explosion rocked the space shuttle Challenger today shortly after it lifted off from Cape Canaveral.
Challenger rocketed away from its launch pad after a series of delays... then was rocked by an explosion that sent it veering wildly out of control and toward the Atlantic Ocean.
The blast hit about two minutes after liftoff... at about nine miles in altitude. The fate of the crew was not immediately known... but search and rescue efforts began immediately.
Aboard the shuttle are seven crew members... including New Hampshire Christa McAuliffe, the first private citizen to fly into space.
The initial seconds after liftoff appeared normal... but early reports indicate that one of the ship's two solid rocket boosters apparently detonated. NASA said it too is awaiting word on the fate of the shuttle crew.
President Reagan was informed of the explosion immediately after the incident but the White House declined comment until it had more information on the situation.
Television monitors at the spaceport showed paramedics parachuting into the sea near the shuttle's impact point.
McAuliffe's husband Steven and her two small children were among the spectators on hand to view the launch.
In Concord, New Hampshire... students at McAuliffe's high school wildly cheered the blastoff... then sat in stunned silence as the Challenger was rocked by the blast.
The principal immediately ordered reporters out of the school and the students into their classrooms.
Challenger took off from Launch Pad 39-B... a refurbished moon rocket facility. It lifted off at 11:38 a.m. Eastern Standard Time after two last-minute snags caused by computer problems with ground equipment and concern about ice on the launch pad.
The Challenger mission had generated greater interest than has been usual with the increasing number of missions being flown by the space plane, because of the presence of McAuliffe.
The Public Broadcasting Service had announced plans to feed nationally on educational stations the lessons McAuliffe planned to broadcast from space.
(12:10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time)